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.

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.

To thin or not to thin: That is the question

By Marc Heller, E&E News reporter | Originally published Tuesday, August 7, 2018 at E&E News.

GROVELAND, Calif. — The Rim Fire, which burned 257,314 acres of forest in 2013, was the biggest wildfire on record for the Sierra Nevada. Forest Service officials declared large areas of the Stanislaus National Forest “nuked” into a “moonscape” where pine trees might not grow back for a generation.

But five years later, Chad Hanson — a forest ecologist who opposes logging on federal lands — can barely avoid stepping on the ponderosa pine saplings that have taken root amid the blackened trunks in one fire-damaged patch of the 898,099-acre national forest. Here, where the Rim Fire burned especially hot, one of the biggest questions about the future of America’s climate-challenged woodlands plays out around Hanson’s ankles: Are forests healthier and safer if humans mostly leave them alone?

The inconvenient truth about forest fires

By Dominick DellaSala, Timothy Ingalsbee, and Luke Ruediger

July 29, 2018, Medford Mail Tribune

It seems like every time there is a forest fire, the timber industry blames environmentalists for a lack of “active forest management” and presumes that contemporary fires have catastrophic ecological consequences. David Schott’s opinion piece in the Mail Tribune July 22 does just that, using the Klamathon fire as an example.

But this fire began on residential land, not in the backcountry environmentalists seek to protect. It made its largest run on private residential, ranch, and timber land, pushed by strong winds. More roads and logging advocated by Schott will not protect communities nor maintain our natural environment.

The forests of our region are some of the most biologically diverse on the planet. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, fire resets nature’s successional clock from biologically rich old growth to also rich new forest — the circle of life. Fires were historically set by Native Americans to manage culturally important wildlife habitats. 

fire snag forest walk web

Walking on the wild side of a snag forest

fire snag forest walk webThis May, Dominick DellaSala was part of a team of researchers and citizen scientists conducting field surveys on the Stanislaus National Forest within the world-class (biodiverse) Sierra-Nevada region of California.

The trip was on the site of the Rim Fire, California’s third largest in recent history, that burned in 2013 over 250,000 acres bordering Yosemite National Park.

What they found was an ecosystem teeming with life, new growth, and diversity, not a barren wasteland.

Read more about Dominick’s walk on the wild side here.

 

Why Oregon forests may continue to burn

Last year’s fire season was bad. This year’s could be too. So why does agreement on a plan to reduce the likelihood of forest fires remain elusive?

“We keep hearing that if only we could do active management we could reduce the risk of severe fires,” said Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist at the Geos Institute, a climate change solutions advocacy group based in Ashland. “I heard that continuously when I testified before Congress last September. But when we looked at 1,500 fires, we found it’s the areas with the most active management that had the highest amount of high-severity fires. They wouldn’t believe that data.”

Read the full article by Pete Danko at the Portland Business Journal

wildfire report cover 2018

Everything you wanted to know about wildland fires in forests but were afraid to ask

wildfire report cover 2018Geos Institute releases a new report, “Everything you wanted to know about wildland fires in forests but were afraid to ask: lessons learned, ways forward“, summarizing latest wildfire science and calls on decision makers to develop science-based policies that protect communities from fire and allow wildfires to perform their ecological functions safely in the backcountry.

Media Coverage

  • Phys.org highlighted this report on April 9, 2018

Aftermath of the 2017 Chetco Bar Fire

Commissioners hit Forest Service with vote of “no confidence,” but they stand alone

By Curtis Hayden

Originally published in Sneak Preview on March 1, 2018 (Grants Pass and Medford) and April 1 (Ashland)

The timing was impeccable. A couple of weeks ago my wife and I were visited by some friends from Portland, Tom and Laura, and when I mentioned that I was writing a story about the Josephine County commissioners and their vote of no-confidence in the ability of the U.S. Forest Service to handle catastrophic forest fires, Tom went out to his car and returned with a book he was reading, Timothy Egan’s The Big Burn.

I figured the book was about the Tillamook Fire of 1933 because I’d heard a lot about that Mother of All Fires over the years.

“The Tillamook Fire was nothing,” Tom said. “It only burned 300,000 acres. This book is about the fire that took place in northern Idaho, Montana and Washington in 1910, which burned over three million acres.”

Apologies from teen who started Eagle Creek fire

On Friday Februray 16th the following article was posted online by the Washington Post, featuring the work of Forest Legacies director Dominick DellaSala. 

The 15-year-old boy who started a wildfire that torched 48,000 acres of one of the northwest’s most coveted scenic regions entered the courtroom stoically Friday. Wearing a beige suit, a black necktie and with his hair neatly combed, he admitted to all 12 of the misdemeanor charges against him, and when he spoke to the courtroom, he apologized.

He apologized seven times.

The wildfire he admitted to sparking along the Eagle Creek Trail — in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area — started Sept. 2 when he hurled a firecracker into a dry ravine as a group of friends filmed him with a cellphone. On that scorching-hot afternoon, the state was in the midst of a burn ban.

“Every day I think about this terrible decision and its awful consequences,” said the Vancouver, Wash., boy, who is being identified by the judge only by his initials, A.B. “I know I will have to live with my bad decision for the rest of my life.”

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