A new study debunks industry/agency claims of “unprecedented” high-severity wildfires across “overgrown” western forests, revealing how U.S. Forest Service-funded scientists omitted evidence to push a narrative currently being used to justify proposals to log tens of millions of acres of public lands across the west, including 3.5 million acres in Colorado’s Front Range.
“Countering Omitted Evidence of Variable Historical Forests and Fire Regime in Western USA Dry Forests: The Low-Severity-Fire Model Rejected,” (https://www.mdpi.com/2571-6255/6/4/146) by William L. Baker, Chad T. Hanson, Mark A. Williams, and Dominick A. DellaSala, published in April in the peer-reviewed journal Fire, uses journal articles, government reports, aerial photos, tree-ring and fire scar studies, and paleo-charcoal reconstructions to conclude that dry forests across the West, prior to early 20th century fire suppression, often had high tree-density and experienced high-severity wildfire
Study authors allege a “falsification of the scientific record” in agency studies over recent decades which have been been used to promote “wildfire risk reduction,” “fuel reduction,” “restoration thinning,” and other euphemisms for logging public lands. Indeed, these myths of exclusively “parklike” forests visited only by low-intensity wildfire—and the need to log to “fix” them—has been reported on as objective fact in the vast majority of media accounts.
The study critiques one review in particular—funded by U.S. Forest Service, California Department of Forestry, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, and other pro-logging entities—by R.K. (Keala) Hagmann, a timber industry consultant and assistant professor at UW’s School of Environmental and Forest Studies (which focuses on “forest resource management.”) Eight of her co-authors are Forest Service staffers, and several others work for entities that conduct or promote logging.
That agency-funded review mischaracterizes certain wildfire studies, omits entire bodies of evidence, and ignores critiques from independent scientists refuting Forest Service half-truths, according to study authors.
The study also sets the record straight on historic Colorado forests, namely that from 1850-1909, “fires were likely mostly stand-replacing, and woodlands likely moderate- to high-severity fires.”
Other Colorado findings included a high-severity wildfire rotation of 249 years in the Front Range based on tree-ring reconstructions. These high-severity fires burned up to 20,586 acres in size, according to surveyor reports.
One of the study authors, Chad Hanson, PhD, notes that “the pattern of scientific omissions and misrepresentations by Forest Service scientists raises troubling questions about scientific misconduct.”