A Message about Wildfires:
By Chad Hanson and Mike Garrity September 26 at 9:26 AM
Chad Hanson is a research ecologist with the John Muir Project and is co-editor and co-author of “The Ecological Importance of Mixed-Severity Fires: Nature’s Phoenix.” Mike Garrity is executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.
The American West is burning, Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) tells us in his recent Post op-ed. He and officials in the Trump administration have described Western forest fires as catastrophes, promoting congressional action ostensibly to save our National Forests from fire by allowing widespread commercial logging on public lands. This, they claim, will reduce forest density and the fuel for wildfires.
But this position is out of step with current science and is based on several myths promoted by commercial interests.
The first myth is the notion that fire destroys our forests and that we currently have an unnatural excess of fire. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a broad consensus among scientists that we have considerably less fire of all intensities in our Western U.S. forests compared with natural, historical levels, when lightning-caused fires burned without humans trying to put them out.
There is an equally strong consensus among scientists that fire is essential to maintain ecologically healthy forests and native biodiversity. This includes large fires and patches of intense fire, which create an abundance of biologically essential standing dead trees (known as snags) and naturally stimulate regeneration of vigorous new stands of forest. These areas of “snag forest habitat” are ecological treasures, not catastrophes, and many native wildlife species, such as the rare black-backed woodpecker, depend on this habitat to survive.
Fire or drought kills trees, which attracts native beetle species that depend on dead or dying trees. Woodpeckers eat the larvae of the beetles and then create nest cavities in the dead trees, because snags are softer than live trees. The male woodpecker creates two or three nest cavities each year, and the female picks the one she likes the best, which creates homes for dozens of other forest wildlife species that need cavities to survive but cannot create their own, such as bluebirds, chickadees, chipmunks, flying squirrels and many others.
More than 260 scientists wrote to Congress in 2015 opposing legislative proposals that would weaken environmental laws and increase logging on National Forests under the guise of curbing wildfires, noting that snag forests are “quite simply some of the best wildlife habitat in forests.”
That brings us to myth No. 2: that eliminating or weakening environmental laws — and increasing logging — will somehow curb or halt forest fires. In 2016, in the largest analysis ever on this question, scientists found that forests with the fewest environmental protections and the most logging had the highest — not the lowest — levels of fire intensity. Logging removes relatively noncombustible tree trunks and leaves behind flammable “slash debris,” consisting of kindling-like branches and treetops.
This is closely related to myth No. 3: that dead trees, usually removed during logging projects, increase fire intensity in our forests. A comprehensive study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences thoroughly debunked this notion by showing that outbreaks of pine beetles, which can create patches of snag forest habitat, didn’t lead to more intense fires in the area. A more recent study found that forests with high levels of snags actually burn less intensely. This is because flames spread primarily through pine needles and small twigs, which fall to the ground and soon decay into soil shortly after trees die.
Finally, myth No. 4: that we can stop weather-driven forest fires. We can no more suppress forest fires during extreme fire weather than we can stand on a ridgetop and fight the wind. It is hubris and folly to even try. Fires slow and stop when the weather changes. It makes far more sense to focus our resources on protecting rural homes and other structures from fire by creating “defensible space” of about 100 feet between houses and forests. This allows fire to serve its essential ecological role while keeping it away from our communities.
Lawmakers in Congress are promoting legislation based on the mythology of catastrophic wildfires that would largely eliminate environmental analysis and public participation for logging projects in our National Forests. This would include removing all or most trees in both mature forests and in ecologically vital post-wildfire habitats — all of which is cynically packaged as “fuel reduction” measures.
The logging industry’s political allies have fully embraced the deceptive “catastrophic wildfire” narrative to promote this giveaway of our National Forests to timber corporations. But this narrative is a scientifically bankrupt smoke screen for rampant commercial logging on our public lands. The American people should not fall for it.
GWA's has a belief that Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks decision to manage bighorn sheep in populations of 125 is in error. For more information and to read our current policy, click on the link above to find out more as written by Dr. Jim Bailey.
See the link above: The Small-population Strategy of Bighorn Sheep
The Gallatin Wildlife Association's main goal concerning bison is to get free-roaming bison on public land, public land outside of the park boundary of Yellowstone National Park. Currently bison from Yellowstone National Park has a history of roaming out of the park boundary during the winter months for warmer temperatures and less snowpack trying to find their normal winter range. As a result bison are captured and slaughtered, never having a chance to get firmly attached to the public landscape within Montana and outside the park boundary. For more information on GWA's position, please see the link above:
Restoration and Management of Wild Bison in Montana
Association works closely with Cottonwood Environmental Law Center. For years our groups have challenged domestic sheep grazing by the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in 16,000 acres of the Centennial
Mountains of southwest Montana. The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail cuts through the federal land and is closed to the public for hunting, hiking, camping and other recreational uses.
Biologists have described the Centennial Mountains as the most important grizzly bear corridor in the lower United States. In the heart of this corridor the Federal Government grazes thousands of domestic sheep. Grizzly bears have killed domestic sheep and chased sheepherders away from sheep carcasses.
Gallatin and Cottonwood have prevailed on two lawsuits against the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station that led the former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to attempt to transfer the federal research to Nebraska, save tax payers millions of dollars every year, and open the 16,000 acres of federal land to the public. In response, Montana U.S. Senator Steve Daines introduced appropriations legislation that kept the Sheep Experiment Station open. Commissioners for MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks have sent letters to Montana's U.S. Senators asking him to stop domestic sheep grazing in the Centennial Mountains. The lead researcher for the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station has stated that grazing domestic sheep in the Centennial Mountains is not necessary for research purposes.
President Trump has indicated his intention to close the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station to save taxpayer money. Senator Daines has again stated he will attempt to circumvent the closure of the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station and keep the 16,000 acres of federal land along the Continental Divide Trail closed to the public.
Please call Senator Daines and ask him to close the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, save millions of tax payer dollars every year and open over 16,000 acres of federal land to the public for hunting, hiking, camping and mountain biking. (406) 587-3446.