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.

The Wildfire Conundrum

Geos Institute’s Dominick DelsaSala is interviewed in The Wildfire Conundrum, an article published in the Jefferson Journal based on a three-part radio series by JPR reporter Liam Moriarty.

“The wildfire conundrum is made up of a complex set of interrelated factors. But it boils down to three main parts: forests out of ecological balance from decades of fire suppression; sprawling development in the woods that requires expanded firefighting efforts; and the mounting impacts of climate change.” – Liam Moriarty

Analysis of proposed fire legislation by Geos Institute’s Chief Scientist shows public lands at risk of increased logging

In comments submitted June 10, 2016 Geos Institute’s Chief Scientist provides analysis of 6 specific pieces of the proposed fire legislation in the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee:

  1. Ecological role of wildland fire in resilient and fire-adapted ecosystems is missing from the draft
  2. Restricts provisions of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) by restricting forest planning to the “no action” vs. “action” alternative and allowing for expansive use of emergency “alternative arrangements” will harm the environment
  3. Allowing for long-term (20-year) federal “hazardous fuel reduction” contracts (d – Long-Term Contracts) in dry mixed conifer and ponderosa pine forests is a disincentive to ecologically based restoration
  4. Not excluding inventoried roadless areas and other ecological important lands recognized in forest plans (e.g., Wilderness Study Areas, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, Late-Successional Reserves, “high-value watersheds”) will cause harm to public lands with some of the highest ecological values
  5. Not addressing the risk of human-caused fire ignitions from an extensive and damaging road system on public lands misses an important contributing factor to uncharacteristic fires
  6. Reducing hazardous fuels in the backcountry diverts much needed attention away from homeowner safety

Read the full comments here

Geos Institute’s Chief Scientist speaks out on draft fire legislation in Congress

Bipartisan Senate proposal eyes funding, promotes clearing

(Originally published in Environment & Energy Daily, Thursday, May 26, 2016) Marc Heller, E&E reporter

A bipartisan group of senators proposed draft legislation yesterday that would spare the Forest Service from borrowing money from forest management to fight wildfires while encouraging more forest clearing to remove potential fuel for fires.

The draft, called the “Wildfire Budgeting, Response and Forest Management Act,” would allow the Forest Service and the Interior Department to tap a budget cap adjustment when the cost of fighting fires exceeds the 10-year average.

That provision is in line with requests Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has made repeatedly to Congress, culminating with his pledge this year to refuse to engage in any more budget borrowing for fires.

It also resembles the “Wildfire Disaster Funding Act” proposed by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) in 2013. Both of those senators joined in crafting of the new draft.

Beetle outbreaks not responsible for severe fires

A new whitepaper by Geos Institute Chief Scientist Dr. Dominick DellaSala summarizes the results of dozens of recent field studies in multiple regions on the effects of mountain pine beetle tree kill on fire severity.

“There is now substantial fieldbased evidence showing that beetle outbreaks do not contribute to severe fires nor do outbreak areas burn more severely when a fire does occur. Outbreaks are primarily the result of a warming climate that has allowed more beetles to survive and to have multiple broods within a breeding season.”

Vilsack pitches revamped wildfire budget to firefighters

(originally published in Greenwire, an E&E Publishing Service)

by Marc Heller, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, May 6, 2016

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack took his plea for a new approach to paying for wildfire fighting to the nation’s fire departments last night, telling hundreds of firefighters that Congress needs to set up disaster funding for forest fires.

At the annual National Fire and Emergency Services dinner, Vilsack said the borrowing the Forest Service does within its budget to pay for firefighting hurts the Agriculture Department’s programs for small, volunteer fire departments.


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