Montana’s Bitterroot Front Project More FS Snake Oil
The Bitterroot Mountains rise above the Bitterroot Valley in western Montana. Photo George Würthner
Montana’s Bitterroot National Forest offers the Bitterroot Front Project (BFP), which covers 144,000 acres. This action will impact an area more than four times larger than the 34,000 acres of Rattlesnake Wilderness north of Missoula.
The Bitterroot Front project will affect 144,000 acres in the foothills of the Bitterroot Mountains. Photo George Würthner
According to the agency, the Bitterroot Front Project (BFP) will promote “forest restoration” and reduce tree mortality from disease, insects and fire. The way to do this is through chainsaw medicine. Unfortunately, the proposal is based on faulty assumptions and faulty policies.
Here is a link to a video produced by the Forest Service to further streamline logging. The video promotes a lot of wildfire misinformation. In this video, he claims that today’s forests are much denser than historic conditions due to fire suppression and other factors. However, this view is disputed by some scientists who argue that the methods used to infer forest density are flawed.
The sprawl in the Bitterroot foothills prompted the Forest Service’s logging proposals. Photo George Würthner
The agency implies that fewer trees are killed in areas with heavy logging, but it never counts the trees it kills with chainsaws. Recent studies suggest that more trees in total are destroyed by thinning and fire than by fire alone if you include all trees felled by chainsaw medicine.
Removal of these trees has substantial impacts on carbon storage and wildlife habitat and does not effectively prevent large fires in extreme fire weather. Clearcuts in the Lake Jocko fire near Lake Seeley. Photo George Würthner
Snags resulting from a large fire store carbon for decades, not to mention charcoal in the soil and roots, which also store carbon. There are still snags from the Great Burn of 1910 surviving and storing carbon more than a hundred years after that 3.5 million acre fire.
In contrast, logging and wood processing immediately release carbon (i.e., climate-warming gases) into the atmosphere. Logging releases three times the carbon of a forest fire per acre and ten times the carbon of forest fires and insects combined. In contrast, forest fires release a relatively small amount of carbon.
For example, in Oregon, the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the state is the result of logging.
When the agency claims it will reduce forest fires through logging, it is ignoring the best science that shows active forest management INCREASES fire spread in extreme weather conditions. Another study “found that forests with higher levels of protection had lower severity values, even though they are generally identified as having the highest overall levels of biomass and fuel load.” In other words, logging actually promotes severe forest fires.
Here’s an “active forest management” near Darby, Montana that failed to stop the Rye Creek Fire. Photo George Würthner
Why? Because when you open up the forest through logging, it often promotes the regrowth of grasses, shrubs, and other fine fuels that keep the fires going. The lack of shade allows fine fuels to dry out, making them easy to ignite. In addition, the open forest allows greater wind penetration, which promotes the spread of fire.
Wind is the main factor in the spread of fire, with 90% of fires occurring during periods of high winds. And the ability of the wind to spread and promote the spread of fire is not linear; instead, it is exponential. In other words, a 20 mile per hour wind not only doubles the light spread over a 10 mile breeze, but quadruples it. So you can imagine what a 50 to 60 mph wind can do.
Logging didn’t prevent a high-severity fire here along Rye Creek near Darby, Montana. Black stumps indicate trees removed “BEFORE” the fire. Photo George Würthner
Without wind, you don’t get much fire lead. But with the wind, the embers are often blown a mile or more ahead of the fire front, creating new ignition zones. Wind-blown embers are the reason why thinning, logging, and other “active forest management” fail to stop large fires.
Map of the Dixie Fire in California that charred nearly a million acres in 2021 covered by ‘active forest management’ turned orange showing that extensive thinning and logging did not prevent the spread of the Dixie Fire and may have exacerbated the spread of the fire. Bryant Baker card.
For example, the Dixie Fire, which burned nearly a million acres, and the 400,000 plus acre Bootleg Blaze in Oregon passed through forests where up to 75% of the land had been “treated” with a active forest management, i.e. chainsaw medicine. .
The effectiveness of prescribed burning is greatly exaggerated. During extreme weather, winds push flames over, around and through forests. Photo George Würthner
Even prescribed burning is relatively ineffective when faced with a wildfire caused by extreme weather conditions. One reviewer called the effectiveness of the prescribed burn a watering can that pretends to be a river.
Here is a ponderosa pine stand that was swept away by a fire in 2021. Note how the forest stand looks like a savannah with widespread trees, with a lower tree density than most “thinning” projects . Photo George Würthner
Additionally, FS implies that high intensity fires where most trees are killed are somewhat undesirable. Yet more wildlife depend on the snag forests resulting from these fires than the low-severity ignitions they suggest are desirable.
Snag forests resulting from high intensity fires provide important wildlife habitat for many plants and animals. Photo George Würthner
However, many plants and animals live in “fear” of green forests.
Snag forests resulting from high intensity fires will have more bees, more butterflies, more mushrooms, more birds, more flowers, more fish, more bats, and more food for grown-ups. animals like elk and deer. Some studies suggest that the second highest biodiversity found in a forest ecosystem is that of snag forests resulting from high severity burns.
Flowers, as well as insects, often increase after a forest fire. Photo George Würthner
This is why chainsaw medicine degrades rather than “restores” forest ecosystems. The problem with most Forest Service employees is that they cannot see the forest (ecosystem) through the trees. Dead trees are essential to a healthy forest ecosystem.
The dry bed of “Lake Powell” Utah photographed in March 2022. We are in the midst of the most severe drought in 1200 years. Photo George Würthner
We are now in the midst of the worst drought conditions in 1200 years. Does anyone think this is not the main factor behind large fires? The idea that you can “restore” the forest to its “historic” state is illusory. These historic conditions no longer exist.
Global warming creates conditions conducive to large fires. I can guarantee that if, by chance, the climate suddenly reverted to another Little Ice Age, we would see few fires, no matter how much ‘fuel’ (I call it wildlife habitat) found in the forests. from Bitterroot.
The way to protect houses is not to treat the forest, but to treat the area immediately around the house. Photo George Würthner
To protect homes, start at home and work outward. Reduce the flammability of the ignition area of the house. But treating the forest more than a hundred feet from dwellings brings no additional benefit and only degrades our forest ecosystems.
By promoting chainsaw medicine, the Forest Service is like the old snake oil salesman who promoted magic elixirs to cure all ailments. Chainsaw medicine is today’s snake oil. Don’t buy it.
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