Forest Legacies Programs

Forest degradation and deforestation contribute more greenhouse gas pollution globally than the entire transportation network.

Conversely, protecting and responsibly managing forests for their capacity to store carbon for long periods (centuries) along with their associated biodiversity and clean water is pivotal to stemming serious global warming problems. Thus, we seek to elevate the importance of intact forests and watersheds in the Pacific Northwest and southeast Alaska nationally and globally in climate change and land-use policies.

Because public lands policies depend to a great extent on which political party is in the White House or in the majority in Congress, we periodically revise program goals to be responsive to threats and opportunities on public lands. Our near-term goals are:

  • Transition logging on the Tongass Rainforest out of 2.5 million acres of old growth to about 100,000 acres of previously logged plantations within five years, thereby ensuring the Tongass will continue to sequester up to 8% of the nation’s globally warming pollution annually.
  • Defend public lands from inappropriate logging and fire management policies – Fire Ecology
  • During forest plan revisions, advocate for protection of ~1 million acres of at-risk legacy forests in the Pacific Northwest that store the equivalent of ~80 times Oregon’s global warming pollution.
  • Permanently protect 220,000 acres of a legacy landscape that may act as a climate refuge within the world-class Klamath-Siskiyou ecoregion.

Chief Scientist Dr. Dominick DellaSala’s letter to Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s Wildfire Council on how the state can best prepare communities for wildfires

I am a conservation scientist with over 200 peer-reviewed publications including books on forest-fire ecology, climate change, and forest management globally and in Oregon. I also served on the Oregon Global Warming Commission Task Force on Carbon, and the Governor’s Forest Carbon Stakeholder Group. I have reviewed the report from the mitigation subcommittee and I write to provide input and a summary of the scientific literature on wildfires in a changing climate to help with your deliberations.

Read the rest of the letter

Oregon Governor’s Council Projects Big Bill To Manage Wildfire

by Cassandra Profita | OPB Sept. 27, 2019 1:54 p.m. | Portland, Ore.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown got a progress report from her Council on Wildfire Response on Thursday, and it came with a hefty price tag.

The board is advising the governor on how to change the state’s wildfire policy in response to growing wildfire risks from overstocked forests, population growth and climate change.

Council Chair Matt Donegan told the governor that one of the major changes the board is recommending is increased investment in wildfire suppression. 

“It just stands to reason that in an era of climate change, in an era of fuel buildup and in an era of population growth and increased wildfire activity that we’re going to have to spend more resources suppressing fire,” he said.

He said the state will need an estimated $4 billion in “a multi-decade initiative that will involve significant state, federal and private investment” to reduce wildfire risks through actions such as logging overstocked forestland.

“That number feels a bit overwhelming,” Brown said in response. “But I think it’s critically imperative that we bite off a significant chunk right now — immediately.”

The governor said she wants to spend more to improve wildland firefighting capabilities, increase controlled burning and help communities live with more wildfire smoke.

“There isn’t really a fire season anymore. It’s year-round. It’s increasing in Oregon and frankly around the entire globe,” she said. “I obviously know we need to do things differently and we need different tools and we clearly need additional resources.”

fire increasing study MDPI2019

Megafires Not Increasing: New Research Shows Large High-Severity Fires are Natural in Western Forests

fire increasing study MDPI2019

In September 2019, Dr. Dominick DellaSala (Geos Institute) and Chad Hanson (Earth Island Institute) published a peer-reviewed study in the science journal Diversity disputes the widely held belief that “megafires” in our national forests are increasing, preventing forests from re-growing, and that logging is necessary to prevent these wildfires. Read the Press Release

“This is the most extensive study ever conducted on the high-severity fire component of large fires, and our results demonstrate that there is no need for massive forest thinning and salvage logging before or after a forest fire” – Dominick DellaSala

Links to the study

Press Coverage

Forest thinning projects won’t stop the worst wildfires

So why is California spending millions on them?

A recent Los Angeles Times project explores the effectiveness of firebreaks across California, with satelite and drone footage showing the devastation caused by recent firest, including the Camp fire in 2018. 

Post-conflagration photos of Paradise reveal row after row of houses reduced to heaps of ash, while nearby trees and vegetation stand green and largely untouched by flame. In the Camp fire, the primary fuel was houses, not vegetation.

Jack Cohen, a retired Forest Service research scientist who studied ignitions and wildfire spread, said he’s been asked to explain the “unusual pattern of destruction” in Paradise.

His response: “It’s not strange and unusual — it’s typical. Every investigation I’ve done comes up with that pattern.”

“We do fuel breaks because the premise is we’ve got a wildfire containment problem” when in fact, Cohen argues, we have a home ignition problem.

Until firefighting agencies recognize that, he said, their efforts are doomed to “further failure at ever increasing cost.”

The Tongass deserves a better path forward

By Dominick A. DellaSala  
Originally published 9/11/2019 at the Anchorage Daily News

In response to former Gov. Frank Murkowski’s Sept. 6 op-ed calling for a full exemption of the Tongass National Forest from roadless protections, its remarkable how much has changed since he was governor. Instead of regressing to the heyday of rampant old-growth logging, no longer acceptable in Alaska or the nation, there is a path forward that reduces controversy, sustains jobs, saves roadless areas and slows down climate chaos by transitioning to young-growth forests. And as far as access issues he is concerned about, the Forest Service already has exercised its discretion to approve 67 projects in roadless areas that involved tree removal and/or road construction. So, the Trump Administration’s roadless rollbacks is completely unnecessary.

There is a better way forward to avoid the kind of global outrage now directed at massive logging in Amazonia, as both the Amazon and the Tongass play vital roles in slowing down runaway climate chaos as the planet’s “lungs.”

Megafires Not Increasing: New Research Shows Large High-Severity Fires are Natural in Western Forests

For Immediate Release, September 10, 2019

From Geos Institute and The John Muir Project

Contact: Eric Podolsky, eric@pikeandcompany.com, (415)585-2100, photos available via e-mail

“MEGAFIRES” NOT INCREASING: NEW RESEARCH SHOWS LARGE HIGH-SEVERITY FIRES ARE NATURAL IN WESTERN FORESTS

Case Study Rebukes U.S. Forest Service’s Post-Fire Clearcut Methods

ASHLAND, OR – SEPTEMBER 10, 2019 – A peer-reviewed study by leading experts of forest and fire ecology recently published in the science journal Diversity disputes the widely held belief that “megafires” in our national forests are increasing, preventing forests from re-growing, and that logging is necessary to prevent these wildfires. While many policy and management decisions in U.S. national forests are based on these assumptions, research shows that large patches of trees killed by wildfires—known as high-severity burn patches—have not been increasing. These findings thus show that taxpayer-funded logging projects on public lands are not only unnecessary, they are also counter-productive, as related research shows that such logging often increases fire severity.

Researchers analyzed the most extensive contemporary and historical datasets ever collected on large (over 1,000 acres) high-severity burn patches across 11 western dry pine and mixed-conifer forests over three decades. The findings dispute the prevailing belief that increasing “megafires” are setting back post-fire forest regeneration.

“This is the most extensive study ever conducted on the high-severity fire component of large fires, and our results demonstrate that there is no need for massive forest thinning and salvage logging before or after a forest fire,” says Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala, lead author of the study and Chief Scientist at the Geos Institute. “The perceived ‘megafire’ problem is being overblown. After a fire, conditions are ideal for forest re-establishment, even in the interior of the largest severely burned patches. We found conditions for forest growth in interior patches were possible over 1000 feet from the nearest low/moderately burned patch where seed sources are most likely.”

DellaSala and co-author Dr. Chad Hanson of the John Muir Project used computer mapping (GIS) databases to investigate vegetation and fire severity trends in large, severely burned forest patches, out of which grow “complex early seral forests” or “snag forest habitats”—unique and ecologically rich areas that are comparable to old forests in terms of native biodiversity and wildlife abundance. They analyzed these patches in four equal time periods from 1984 to 2015 using U.S. Geological Survey fire severity datasets. They found an increase in large burn patches only during the 1980s and early 1990s, followed by a flat pattern to the present day.

“We will use these findings to counter ill-conceived post-fire logging projects on the Stanislaus National Forest in the Sierra Nevada,” says Dr. Hanson. “The U.S. Forest Service, assisted by The Nature Conservancy and Sierra Nevada Conservancy, is proposing to clearcut several thousand acres of prime snag forest habitat based on their false assumption that the forest cannot rejuvenate on its own and is better off being converted to wood chips for biomass energy production, which worsens the climate crisis.”

The study concludes that over the past three decades, the interval between large, high-severity burn patches at the landscape scale averaged 12 centuries to over 4,000 years, allowing more than ample time for forests to regenerate and develop into old-growth areas. Evidence was found in historical records of even larger high-severity burn patches, countering claims that contemporary high-severity burn patches are unprecedented and forests cannot recover on their own.

“This paper is critical to wildlife conservation in fire-dependent forests, as it dispels notions that large, high-severity fires are unnatural and catastrophic,” says Monica Bond, a Ph. D candidate and researcher with the Wild Nature Institute, who was not involved in the study. “As a researcher, I have documented spotted owls, songbirds, and numerous woodpeckers using these large burn patches for both foraging and nesting. An entire community of under-appreciated wildlife depends on these large burns.”

See below for links to the study:

Abstract: https://www.mdpi.com/1424-2818/11/9/157

HTML Version: https://www.mdpi.com/1424-2818/11/9/157/htm

PDF Version: https://www.mdpi.com/1424-2818/11/9/157/pdf

For more information on the Rim fire, visit https://bit.ly/2kaxpMF.

About Geos Institute:

Geos Institute is a science-based organization that is helping to make natural and human communities whole in the face of climate change. For information on their forest work, visit https://www.forestlegacies.org/.

About The John Muir Project:

John Muir Project (www.johnmuirproject.org) is a forest conservation and research organization dedicated to ensuring that public forests are protected and managed for ecology and recreation, not commercial logging.

 

It’s time to get it right with Tongass, timber, carbon and climate change

By Catherine M. Mater and Dominick A. DellaSala

Opinion article published August 29, 2019 in the Juneau Empire

A perfect storm is brewing in Southeast Alaska and all weather vanes are pointing to the Tongass National Forest — the “Amazon” of America that serves as lungs of the nation by absorbing and storing the equivalent of almost 10 percent of all the carbon retained in U.S. forests. Alaska has been in the national news with coverage of dried-up salmon spawning grounds due to unprecedented drought, and dwindling deer populations from logging old growth on Prince of Wales Island; all while the White House and Alaskan officials double down on eliminating protections for Alaska’s roadless old growth stands.

Understanding the connection between the Tongass, continued timber production, climate change and the real need for creating economic development in the state has never been more urgent. But these seemingly disparate silos offer a comprehensive solution.

While the state’s forest products industry that relies on old growth timber has sharply declined, a new one is emerging focused on transitioning out of old growth logging to reliance on Tongass young growth — 55-75-year-old trees — timber supply.

As Amazon Forest burns, Dunleavy and Trump eye Tongass National Forest

Dunleavy and federal government want to repeal forest protections

By Michael S. Lockett, Originally published August 29, 2019 at the Juneau Empire

The Tongass National Forest is the largest national forest in the United States, at roughly 16 million acres, or slightly more area than West Virginia. It’s also one of the largest remaining temperate rainforests in the world, protected by rules prohibiting logging.

But Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the Trump administration reportedly want to change that.

“Our general belief is if the Trump administration is moving in this direction, we think it’s very much appropriate,” said Dunleavy’s spokesperson, Matt Shuckerow, in a telephone interview. “Without timber in the United States, I don’t know how we build a home, how to build construction.”

A report by the Washington Post indicated sources within the Trump administration confirmed the president’s desire to roll back protections called the “Roadless Rule,” which exempts more than 9 million acres of Tongass from development. Nearly 6 million further acres are designated as wilderness, barring them from development in perpetuity. 

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