Thinning forests won't prevent fires

There has been much heated debate lately surrounding the record number of fires this year, mainly in the forests of Oregon and California.  Even more frightening than the actual fires, however, is President Bush’s proposal on how to prevent them. 

 

Bush’s “tree- thinning” proposal for preventing forest fires is to thin forests, making them less crowded, and therefore less incendiary.  While that may seem logical, in reality, a nation-wide thinning policy would do more harm than good. 

 

Research has shown that thinning does not help to stop wildfires, but actually causes them to spread.  When a forest is thinned, the decrease in shade allows much more sunlight to reach the forest floor, causing the foliage and small trees to dry out, creating entire forests full of tinder. Slash piles left behind a thinned area also act as fuel for a fire.  When left alone, forests are naturally moist places, making them less prone to rampaging fires.  Some species of tree, such as the Ponderosa pine, are naturally fire-resistant, and yet many of the forests that the federal government has stated need thinning contain this very tree.  Thinning, especially when larger trees are cut, has the same effect to the forests eco-system that a clear cut can have: loss of habitat for creatures, a decrease in nutrients to feed remaining trees and plants, and soil erosion, which can cause problems like flooding. And whenever logging companies or the Forest Service remove any trees, they pull out plants, lichen and moss as well, some of which may be thousands of years old and vital to the health of the forest.  Thinning also allows more wind to hit remaining trees, causing them to crack and fall. 

 

Do we really need to stop forest fires?  The feeling in the mainstream press seems to be that all forest fires are inherently bad.  But this is simply not true. Any wildlife biologist will tell you that fires are a way for forests to rejuvenate themselves, and are a part of the natural cycle that eco-systems depend on.  Indeed, the century old policy of suppressing all fires in National Forests has proven to be completely off base and one of the worst forest management decisions ever.  There have been other misconceptions reported in the mainstream media as well. Many, including Bush, seem to believe that fires destroy everything in their path.  But many trees survive fires only slightly burned.  Plants as well survive fires and can bloom again and again, some plants have even survived hundreds of fires throughout their life-span of what can be thousands of years.  So Bush’s theory that we should be “quickly restoring areas damaged by fires." is completely off base, Forests restore themselves without human aid. 

 

Thinning forests doesn’t prevent fires or decrease their intensity, and therefore doesn’t protect homes and towns built near forests.  There are sensible alternatives to a nation-wide thinning policy. Fire protection can be done much more efficiently and much less expensively on a local level, and nearly all conservationists and forest scientists agree the most effective way to protect communities is to focus protection efforts near homes instead of deep in the forest.    Here are some things you can do to protect your home: *

 

       Building or remodeling a home or structure with fire-resistant material such as metal and slate.

       Cleaning your roof and gutters frequently.

       Landscaping your property with fire-resistant plants such as hardwood trees.

       Owning a garden hose that is long enough to reach anywhere on your property.

       Cleaning and inspecting your chimney at least once a year.

       Mow your lawn, prune shrubs next to your home, and remove dead twigs, needles, leaves and branches regularly.

       Remove trees and shrubs that are within fifteen feet of a stove pipe or chimney outlet.

       Stack firewood at least one-hundred feet away and uphill from your home.

       Cut branches from trees next to your home. 

 

(* These recommendations courtesy of the BARK newsletter)

 

 

 Man's meddling worsens wildfires

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