Fire Ecology

Defending Bedrock Environmental Laws and Policies

Fire is a natural force that has shaped the biodiversity of dry forests across the West for millennia. Fire is only catastrophic when it destroys homes or results in loss of life. Unfortunately, fire has been used as an excuse for opening up millions of acres of public lands to unabated logging based on the false premise that logging can prevent future fires and is needed to “restore” forests that have burned. We have chosen to work on fire as a key- stone ecological process because there is much public concern about whether it will increase during a warming climate and whether it is a significant source of CO2 emissions.

For over a decade, Geos Institute has been playing a leadership role in bringing cutting-edge science on the ecological importance of fire featured in top tier science journals, news media reports, and in efforts by partners to defend landmark environmental laws and policies. We continue to develop scientifically sound alternatives that advocate for let-burn policies under safe conditions in the backcountry and fuels reduction near homes and in flammable tree plantations.

Community Fire Protection Alternative for Fire Safety

Conservation groups announced a new fire protection alternative designed to protect homes and firefighters from wildfires as a counter to pro-logging approaches that create fire- and climate-unsafe landscapes. The alternative was sent to Oregon Governor Kate Brown and has relevance to fire fighting efforts in California as well, where California Governor Gavin Newsom has proposed massive logging that will do nothing to prepare communities for wildfire safety.

Read the response to Governor Brown’s Executive Order on Oregon’s Wildfire Response Council

The Paradise fire: Could it happen to us?

By Dominick DellaSala and Dennis Odion
Originally published on December 23, 2018 in the Medford Mail Tribune

Smoke from wildfires is gone for now, but this year’s tragic California fires are a stark reminder of what could happen here. There are many take-aways that can help us prepare.

The Camp Fire of Paradise Valley, which took the lives of 88 people and destroyed thousands of structures, had nothing to do with whether the forest was thinned. It was a structure-to-structure fire. Startling images from GoogleEarth reveal surrounding trees untouched while homes burned to the ground. Blown by high winds, embers advanced miles ahead of the flame front, landing on unprepared homes and taking them out in a domino-like fashion.

In Southern California, tornado-force winds are known to spread fire rapidly through shrublands that at one time supported diverse wildlife habitat, but are now sprawling developments. Wildlands were gobbled up by developers during a mid-20th century climate-cool down that made fire suppression effective and created a false sense of security.

California now has unbridled traffic jams and global warming-related fires that destroy entire towns with no end in sight, as over 1 million new homes are planned in harm’s way by 2050. Insurance companies also have taken notice, anticipating increased wildfires related to global warming that will impact everybody’s bottom line.

So, what have we learned that can be applied in the Rogue Valley?

Firefighters working to contain the 2016 Soberanes Fire in Los Padres National Forest in California. U.S. Forest Service -- Los Padres National Forest/Facebook

Are feds over-fighting fires? Critics point to this blaze

By Adam Aton, E&E News reporter, originally published Thursday, December 13, 2018

Firefighters working to contain the 2016 Soberanes Fire in Los Padres National Forest in California. U.S. Forest Service -- Los Padres National Forest/Facebook

Firefighters saved the homes. Then they went into the woods.

California’s 2016 Soberanes Fire broke records for costing the most money to fight a wildfire — much of it in a national forest near Big Sur. That’s the kind of place where experts say fire is good; the ecosystem depends on it, and the flames don’t threaten people or property.

(Photo: Firefighters working to contain the 2016 Soberanes Fire in Los Padres National Forest in California. U.S. Forest Service — Los Padres National Forest/Facebook)

Instead of letting it burn, the Forest Service unleashed an air show. By the end, 3.5 million gallons of flame retardant blanketed the area. Bulldozers cut through 60 miles of woodland, costing the Forest Service as much as $1 million a day to repair, according to a new report.

That lesson threatens to be lost in the whiplash pace of fighting fires.

Fire Seasons Without End (KBOO Interview)

Aired Monday November 2, 2018

The wildfires in Northern and Southern California this month are a grisly foreshadowing of a world in the fiery grip of climate chaos. It is apparent – unless you’re a climate denier – that climate change is upon us and that fire seasons without end are a stark indication of how much human activity and fossil fuels have intensified wildfire regimes as well as catastrophic weather events.

On this episode of Locus Focus, host Barbara Bernstein talks with fire and forest ecologist Dominick DellaSala, with the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon, about what we need to be learning from California’s escalating problems with destructive wildfires, driven by a warming, drying climate, and a massive expansion of housing in the wildland–urban interface.

Get more information or listen to the recording at the KBOO website.

Why California Can’t Chainsaw Its Way Out Of A Raging Inferno

By Peter Aldhous, BuzzFeed News Reporter (Posted on November 20, 2018, at 4:36 p.m. ET)

Some of the news photos from the devastation in Paradise, California, show a surprising scene: Green, living trees stand near homes that have been reduced to ashes.

They reveal that wildfire is a capricious enemy, but also indicate that there’s more to preventing catastrophic loss of lives and property than the prescriptions offered by the president of the United States — whose tweets and public statements suggest that what California needs to do is hoard water, cut down trees to prevent fires spreading, and get busy raking.

While thinning forests might work in some areas, studies indicate that it’s unlikely to be an effective remedy for California or the West as a whole — and it would have done little to curb the state’s most destructive recent fires.

As BuzzFeed News reported in July, California’s escalating problems with destructive wildfires have been driven by a warming, drying climate, and a massive expansion of housing in what experts call the wildland–urban interface. This has not only put people in the line of fire but has also increased the chances of a conflagration — because power lines and other human infrastructure and activity are the main sources of ignition.

Keep reading at BuzzFeedNews.com

Beyond smoke and mirrors

By Dominick DellaSala; Originally published in the Ashland Daily Tidings, August 29, 2018

Just about every day someone has a quick-fix logging “solution” and scapegoat to blame for the growing wildfire problem caused by years of climate neglect and poor planning. Meanwhile, smoke and fires are damaging our local economy, forcing home evacuations and causing tragic loss of life. Everyone wants to do something. So, what do we know about wildfires and is there a simple solution, given fires are not going away, no matter how hard we try?

Climate change plus industrial logging plus human-caused fire ignitions equal fire increases

Since the 1980s, wildfire acres have been increasing, although much fewer acres burn now compared to historic times. The main culprit — dinosaur carbon used to run our cars, homes and factories is conspiring climatically with carbon released from deforestation. The consequence — the hotter/drier it gets, the more fires we see.

217 Scientists call on Congress to oppose logging provisions in the House Farm Bill

As scientists with backgrounds in ecological sciences and natural resources management, we are greatly concerned about proposals to speed up and expand logging on public lands in response to recent increases in wildfires in the West – proposals such as the House version of the 2018 Farm Bill. There are pragmatic, science-based solutions that can maintain biologically diverse fire-dependent ecosystems while reducing risks to communities and firefighters facing some of the most active fire seasons in recent memory. Unfortunately, such solutions are getting lost in the endless rhetoric and blaming that has characterized wildfires in the media, Congress, and the Trump administration. We the undersigned are calling on decision makers to facilitate a civil dialogue and careful consideration of the science to ensure that any policy changes will result in communities being protected while safeguarding essential ecosystem processes.

Read the full letter to Congress

Klondike fire crews brace for ‘long fight ahead’

BY ANNETTE MCGEE RASCH FOR THE MAIL TRIBUNE, August 18, 2018

With the Taylor Creek and Klondike fires merged at nearly 120,000 acres — and still growing — many southwestern Oregonians fear the blaze is poised to enter the record books alongside the 2002 Biscuit fire and last year’s Chetco Bar fire.

In an effort to quell that possibility, fire managers brought in reinforcements from California Saturday with the goal of full suppression.

Because of the fire’s size and complex challenges, operations have been split between two teams: Taylor Creek Klondike East based near Selma, and Taylor Creek Klondike West, now headquartered at the Curry County Fairgrounds in Gold Beach.

California’s Interagency Incident Management Team 4 took over operations on the entire west-facing flank of the fire complex Saturday. This team possesses experience with steep terrain and dry fuel types, and plans to go into “full suppression mode” to protect coastal residents.

Better Dead than Gone: Rep. Walden pushes for dead tree removal and replanting

By Henry Houston, originally published by Eugene Weekly, August 9, 2018

The state of Oregon currently faces 14 fires, affecting nearly 180,000 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. When the fire season is over, some of what’s left is dead, burned trees.

But what happens to those burned trees?

Eastern Oregon Rep. Greg Walden is urging the U.S. Senate to adopt the House’s version of the 2018 Farm Bill, which would remove burned, dead trees from public lands “while they still have value and replant” forest — just like private timberlands do.

It’s common sense, Walden says, in an email newsletter to constituents.

That’s a problematic strategy, according to Dominick DellaSala, president and chief scientist at Geos Institute in Ashland.

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