Much of the national forest landscape has become one giant densely-packed tinderbox.
Who’s at fault for the precarious situation of our forests? The timber industry is at fault; the government is at fault; and ultimately, it is all of our fault, as well.
Tree Farm Tinderboxes
Pack billions of the same-age trees close together, wait for dry-lightning or another ignition source, and you have an unnatural firebomb. The cause of thousands of annual catastrophic hot fires around the world are tree farms created by timber industry clear-cutting and fire suppression to prevent timber inventory loss.
I have seen it happen. About five years ago, driving home on Interstate 5 North of Lake Shasta, a dry-lightning storm began. It looked like the finger of God came down as lightning struck a conifer and it burst into smoke. I have seen fir trees explode into fire as a firestorm came down a hillside near my house in Telluride, Colorado. Two years ago, early in the morning, I was climbing the Cosmic Wall in Castle Crags State Park in California, and I saw a small fire miles away. By the afternoon as my climbing partner and I were rappelling down, the fire had exploded into a giant fire that blocked Interstate 5 for five days.
Unless witnessed firsthand, it’s difficult to appreciate the enormous power of a moving hot forest fire in a dense tree-farmed forest. A single 100′ tree can burst in one second into flames 170′ in the air.
Today’s forest fires are unnatural. Natural forest fires are usually cooler because fire is more frequent. The trees are further apart and are of different ages including mature fireproof trees. Worse yet, every hillside we see is covered with tree farms waiting to ignite. The timber industry, U.S. Forest Service, and BLM have packed billions of trees densely together.
When A Tree Farm is Not A Forest
A forest is a diverse living regenerative ecosystem made of millions of species. A tree farm is primarily a mono-aged, single-layer tree crop. A tree forest is like a corn field.
A forest is five or more forest layers: underground fungi, ground cover, shrubs, under story, middle story, canopy, wines and lakes, wild rivers and fisheries. Age diversity is a key to a forest being a forest. A tree farm is just that: a crop of trees all planted close together at the same time. Look at the top photo. This tree farm burns uncontrolled catastrophically hot.
Catastrophic Hot Fires Are Preventable
The photo below was taken the day after a fire in Big Basin Redwoods State Park in California. It’s important to note that though the lodge is burned to the ground, the trees are still standing. Why? Because old-growth forests are fireproof and burn cool. Fire reduces fuel as it occasionally visits. Ancient trees have thick fireproof bark. Fire is healthy in an old forest, but it is a disaster in a young clear-cut tree farm.
Timber Industry and The Federal Government Should Pay For Fire and Smoke Damage
Damage from catastrophic wildfires is in the trillions of dollars when you include commerce lost from summer fire season smoke, structures, fire fighting, evacuations, forest thinning, and ecosystem services destruction. The timber industry should pay for this much like the tobacco industry settlement.
Smokey The Bear was invented by the U.S. timber industry to gain public support for suppressing the natural fire cycle to prevent burning of their inventory.
The U.S. Forest Service services the timber industry. Most agencies support for-profit monopoly industries that have little interest in benefitting society beyond their quarterly profits. Imagine how insensitive and soul-less one has to be to destroy an entire continent’s ecosystems and trillions of living organisms, fish and animals for profit. The blatant destruction and selling off of our natural resources by dispassionate agency executives and complacent government officials is criminal. There are alternatives.
In the timber industry alone, there are lifetimes of work just removing non-native planted species. Over-logging has changed the landscape. In Southern Oregon, Madrone trees are taking over some forests like tree crabgrass because the timber industry dislikes them because they do not grow straight.
Best Do Nothing Forest Management
The best thing we can do to restore our forests is nothing. Let Nature burn them and start over. We cannot manage a forest. A forest is a diverse regenerative ecosystem; a flow of energies. When we interrupt, we set back Nature’s succession. Forest is the climate of succession.
The next best thing we can do is to create jobs and to supply lumber is to selectively cut only the youngest trees and leave the older trees alone. This would create more forest age-diversity and would end catastrophic hot wildfires by restoring old-growth fireproof forests.
Do not cut in watersheds. Remove all dams and replace them with penstocks for hydroelectric power. This will allow the wild fisheries to return and salmon to spawn in cool waters. Clear-cutting the entire river valley and leaving a row of trees to shade fish-bearing streams is not a beneficial solution.
Old-growth forests create rain on Earth. When we cut the old growth forests, we removed one of the essential engines of the Earths’ hydration cycle. Clear-cutting and industrial tree farms also heat the planet by removing shade. When forest shade is removed, temperatures rise 10–14˚F heating the landscape. Read more in this related article on how deforestation is the primary cause of climate change: Climate Change: Deforestation is the Cause.
Parks And Wilderness Are Good For Business
Ecotourism is beneficial for real estate and other business, but it is also good for the forests. Enabling as many people as possible to experience wild and scenic landscapes increases the political will to protect them. Outfitters, real estate agents, restaurant owners and retailers will all support scenic landscapes that bring higher paying tourists in to benefit the areas. Especially today with limited international travel, vacation destinations within driving distance are becoming more popular.
Supporting our local, national, state and county parks; our wild and scenic rivers; and wilderness areas are of huge benefit for all businesses. Supporting our local environmental watchdog groups, along with pushing our politicians to expand our parks and protected areas and remove dams are other ways of assuring better living qualities for all.
Catastrophic Fires Are Bad For Business
Almost every summer for the last 5 or 6 years we have had catastrophic wildfires in Southern Oregon. My city of Ashland, Oregon relies on tourism and has been hurt economically by repeated smoky wildfire seasons. Many businesses such as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, restaurants and Bed & Breakfast lodging have all lost substantial business due to the choking smoke permeating the summer air from the enormous fires caused by the clear-cutting of tree farms. Further reduced tourism caused by COVID-19 has been the last straw forcing many local businesses to close permanently.
Our Population Creates Timber Demand
We should consider that we cannot control our thirst for lumber as long as civilization cannot control its own population. A sustainable human population may be 10x fewer than we have now. This would reduce demand for forest products by 90 percent. One-child families may be our best way to peacefully reduce population over the long-term. No matter our cause, it is a lost cause unless we reduce the human population.
Since I wrote this 10 days ago, wildfires continue to explode along the length of the West Coast United States. I drove from Seattle to Ashland, Oregon today through constant smoke and fires. I am going to add one more party to blame: cigarette companies. A cigarette discarded at the Ashland Quiet Village or the dog park, started a wild fire that has now burned the homes of several of our close friends in Talent, Oregon and now threatens Medford and Pheonix, Oregon, home of 85,000 residents. Attached are photos along Interstate 5 today, September 8, 2020. What appear to be clouds is smoke. The color in the photos has not been retouched. In the first photo we are driving into a mile high wall of smoke. The last photo is near our home, north Ashland and Talent are burning. Over 600 homes were lost in the fire. Ten percent of Orogonians have evacuated their homes.