Real vs. Fake Forests

What makes a forest a forest? This simple question becomes much more complicated, depending on who you ask. Thankfully, Dr. Dominick DellaSala, President and Chief Scientist of the Geos Institute, helps us explore this question and settle the debate in a chapter on “Fake” vs “Real” forests that will be published in The World’s Biomes, scheduled to be released in 2020. Topics that will be explored include:

  • Does planting trees compensate for cutting down a forest?
  • Can we truly see a forest for more than just the trees?

Redwood National Park fog in the forestIf a tree grows in a forest, does that make it a forest?Industry classifies forests as “an area at minimum 120 ft wide, 1 acre minimum wide, with at least 10% forest cover.” Does that sound like a forest to you?

The US Forest Service is an arm of the USDA. The department of agriculture’s focus is growing crops. Stated plainly, that means the Forest Service sees trees as crops. This typically means tree plantations are planted in dense rows like corn to be thinned, sprayed with chemicals, and fertilized for the fastest growing cycle for logging and the highest “return on investment.”

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Don’t Be Fooled by “Fake Forests”

There is no substitute for a real old-growth forestby Dominick A. DellaSala, Ph. D, Chief Scientist, Geos Institute

Originally posted on the Oregon Wild website

If a tree grows in a forest, does that make it a forest? Does planting trees compensate for cutting down a forest? How do we know we are in a forest or an unreasonable facsimile (“fake”) there of?

A new publication “The World’s Biomes” is set for release in libraries globally in 2020. It will feature my chapter on fake vs. real forests. Contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for an advanced copy of this chapter.

In the meantime, here’s a sneak preview of what’s inside a real vs. fake forest.

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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?

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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.

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