National Geographic Daily News
Photo of the remains of a small tree burned by the Rim Fire outside of Camp Mather, CA.

The Rim fire scorched trees large and small, including these photographed on August 24, 2013, outside of Camp Mather near Groveland, California.

Photograph by Justin Sullivan, Getty

Kenneth Brower

for National Geographic

Published July 14, 2014

The Rim fire began as a hunter's illegal campfire on August 17 of last year, burned for more than two months before full containment, then continued to smolder until winter snow extinguished the last tendrils of smoke. The fire blackened 402 square miles of trees, chaparral, and grassland, mostly in Stanislaus National Forest but also on private timberland and across a 77,000-acre swath of Yosemite National Park. (See "Huge Rim Fire Gives Opportunity to Restore Forest Differently.")

It was the largest wildfire on record in the Sierra Nevada and the third largest wildfire in California history—a hellish conflagration, by any measure, as some 5,000 firefighters can testify. And yet the crucial moment for this burned forest was not back then, when it was burning. It's right now.

In May the U.S. Forest Service proposed a "salvage" logging plan to clear-cut nearly 30,000 acres of the burn, and it has begun a hazardous-tree removal project that would log an additional 16,000 acres. A bonanza for the timber industry, the salvage plan would sell 661 million board feet of timber, nearly four times the volume sold last year in all of California's national forests. The plan would waive Forest Service rules intended to protect old-growth forest. Trees more than 30 inches in diameter at the base, formerly off-limits, are now fair game.

Salvage logging is a suspect concept in the West, and litigation and public opposition have slowed these projects in the past. The Forest Service, having learned from this experience, shortened the public comment period on Rim fire salvage to just 30 days. The opportunity for citizen input closed on June 16.

A week earlier, the Forest Service began its hazardous-tree removal project along Highway 120, the main route into Yosemite National Park. To date the logging has made it just a few miles down the road, but eventually crews will clear-cut a total of 100,000 trees along 194 miles of roadway through the forest. This includes many miles of old road not maintained for public use—a hint, critics suggest, that the real agenda is less about public safety than board feet of timber. According to one Forest Service estimate, travelers to Yosemite should expect to meet an average of one logging truck every 30 seconds.

Rising From the Ashes

An increasingly vocal group of forest ecologists, both inside the Forest Service and out, has joined environmentalists in protesting the proposed plan as a catastrophe. The ecologists point out that most western forests are not just fire adapted but fire dependent. A burn in the Sierra Nevada is not tragedy; it is simply a stage in the life of the forest.

The Rim fire's torching of the chaparral of the foothills has left a Hiroshima-like landscape, but this is nothing new. Chaparral, a low-growing, impenetrable, aromatic weave of ceanothus, chamise, manzanita, and scrub oak, burns frequently because it must burn. The leaves of the ceanothus are tacky with flammable resins. Ignited, they provide the intense heat required by ceanothus seeds for germination. Chamise—greasewood—dries out, burns like a grease fire, clears out less pyrotechnic competition, and quickly sprouts again.

Higher in the Sierra, in the zone of thunderstorms and lightning fires, giant sequoias—the biggest things that have ever lived—are protected from fire by fibrous outer bark four feet thick. "Bring It On" is the sequoia motto. The tiny seeds of this colossal tree germinate best on bare mineral soil where the duff has been partially burned away. The lodgepole pine and other closed-cone Sierra conifers open their cones and shed seeds profusely only in the heat of fire.

Western trees are beautifully adapted to fire ecologically but poorly adapted politically. No forest type has fewer legal protections, and is more vulnerable to exploitation, than burned forest.

And as with the flora, so it goes with the fauna. Wood-boring beetles can detect the heat or smoke of high-intensity burns from 40 miles away. They fly toward it, passing the deer, bears, foxes, and squirrels fleeing in the other direction. Black-backed woodpeckers follow the beetles into the blackened forest and drill beetle larvae out of snags. The woodpeckers chisel out several new nest cavities each year, abandoning last year's holes to the mountain bluebirds and other cavity-nesters that follow them into the burn.

Insects swarm the flowering shrubs and herbs that spring up from charred landscapes. Bats, flycatchers, swifts, and swallows flock in to hunt the insects. Small-mammal populations explode amid the downed logs and resurgent shrubs. Hawks, owls, weasels, and coyotes migrate in to hunt those. For any burn in the Sierra, this indigenous fire crew is forever on call, a host of creatures ready and waiting for fire and its aftermath.

Photo of the forest engulfed in flames in Groveland, CA.
Flames from the Rim fire consume trees near Groveland, California.
Photograph by Justin Sullivan, Getty

In studies of the "snag-forest habitat" left by high-intensity burns, ecologists have found biodiversity equal to, or surpassing, the biodiversity found in old-growth forest. A mosaic of low-intensity and high-intensity burns makes for diverse and healthy forest. Burned trees are not waste. The snags, seed logs, and other deadwood that the Forest Service is rushing to truck to the mills are just the next generation of trees in the process of becoming. Fire frees up nutrients bound in woody material on the forest floor and makes them available, as ash, to new growth.

Western trees are beautifully adapted to fire ecologically but poorly adapted politically. No forest type has fewer legal protections, and is more vulnerable to exploitation, than burned forest.

Missing the Forest for the Lumber

In the past two decades the Forest Service has made a real effort to shift its emphasis from timber harvest to ecosystems management. The agency acknowledges that the great failure of its past has been to miss the forest for the trees—or, more precisely, to miss the forest for the lumber. This is why the proposed salvage plan is so disheartening. It marks a regression to those bad old days.

The post-fire spring has turned to summer. The chaparral and forest burned in the Rim fire—country described as "nuked" and "hopeless" by the Forest Service—is greening up, as always after fire. Last spring, driving Highway 120 to Yosemite through Rim fire smoke, I passed blackened ponderosa pines I would have sworn were dead. They are now flushing new needles, a green glow in stand after stand.

Find out why firefighters intentionally set fire to Yosemite National Park to keep the forest healthy.

The hazardous-tree removal teams are working their way down this road. Where the standard removal distance is 1.5 or 2 tree lengths from either side, the bushing back here is much deeper. Trees are not being selected and marked. Everything is being taken, dead or alive. The wide corridor along the road to Yosemite is a preview, writ small, of the salvage plan to follow.

"Right now the critical date is August 1," fire ecologist Chad Hanson told me recently. Hanson, director of the John Muir Project, is a prominent critic of the salvage plan. "The decision will come around then. The Forest Service has curtailed public participation and cut short the comment period. There is no administrative appeal or objection period. The day they sign the decision is the day the chain saws start."

Writer and California native Kenneth Brower is the author of many articles and books, including American Legacy: Our National Forests.

47 comments
Sharon Reeve
Sharon Reeve

Dead trees perform important functions during recovery of a burned area. Logging them is stupid and destructive, and will cause erosion and further destruction. SO STUPID!

Justine Habib
Justine Habib

On a hike in Yosemite this past spring, I saw old growth trees in the burn area that had survived and tiny sequoia saplings popping up. The ground was very fragile and mushy- I avoided treading heavily on it so as not to damage the baby trees underfoot. The damage loggers would do here would permanently scar this park. Logging trees that survived the fire and treading over 30,000 acres with equipment is a bad idea. Yosemite is a treasure which our government should protect from exploitation and harm. Now that the comment period closed, what can we as the public do to make sure the Forest Service doesn't move forward with this greed-driven plan? 

Robert Sellers
Robert Sellers

BION, Nature is a lot wiser than the Know-Nothings [KN] in the 'radical environmentalist movements' and just to relate one item lets look at the Glorious Spotted Owl [SO] episode of years ago.  The KNs discovered that the beautiful and unique SOs were no longer in the forest which they, the NKs, had protected so long from harvesting, controlled burns and forest fires when possible.  Anyway, they blamed everyone but God for the demise of the SO.  But years later a wise watcher found huge scores of SOs in a new place and everyone was amazed to find that the owls had migrated to new growth forest. Why? Well anyone who knows anything about owls understand that they feed on critters that roam the forest floor such as: snakes, bugs, rodents, etc,; you get the picture.  So, in protecting the old growth forest and allowing the undergrowth to cover the ground kept the owls, up in the trees, from viewing the forest floor area for the critters they feast on and they had to move in order to survive. They, the KNs, who usually live in high-rises or on Ivy clad campuses, never did admit their mistake because they are never wrong and of course know more than any one who does live close to nature.  The "Causes" they identify with make them feel good and that's what is important to them.

debbie viess
debbie viess

I couldn't agree more with this article that pleads for "amnesty" for our burned forests. A forest is far more than the value of its standing lumber! Unlike the actual Stanislaus Forest Service botanist whom I spoke with, who was not allowed into that burn this spring due to "tree hazards, " I DID get into that Rim fire burn, as part of an ongoing UC Berkeley fungal survey.


Everywhere we looked, regeneration and green growth were in evidence. Post-burn flowers carpeted the ground; birds and other wildlife flocked to these oases of green. Morel mushrooms, one of the colonizers of burned ground, were also present in humbling quantities. But morels are not just for our human fry pans … they turn ash into flesh, which attracts insects which attract birds and on goes that great wheel of life. Partially burned trees will regenerate. Devastation burns will attract colonizing plant species; forest openings are also essential to forest ecosystems.


Bulldozers only produce monoculture tree farms, a very poor substitute for a living forest.


It would be tragic to destroy that great stretch of forest just for board feet of lumber. NO NO NO NO!


From what I gleaned from speaking to Forest Service reps, the proposed clear-cutting was a deal brokered with the logging company … in payment for clearing "hazard trees," they would get to log a bunch of undamaged or still standing, ripe for regeneration forest. Those trees belong to us!


Bulldozed forests may be good for the odd morel hunter (morels thrive in grossly disturbed lands), and certainly profitable for logging companies, but they are an ecological abomination.

How do we stop this now, before the damage is done?



Robert Sellers
Robert Sellers

Having been reared in a pine forest, beginning 87 years ago,  I learned early that to 'control burn' the under brush, leaves/straw every year or two protects the forest from radical burns set by carelessness or lightening bolts.  But somehow, those who have no knowledge of how nature works in the forest, have gotten control of regulating most of them and have allowed, through laws, for the undergrowth to become thick and tall and the fires have become tremendously hot and  kills so many of the trees. Therefore, logging is necessary or the bugs and beetles in the dead trees  will attack and kill those trees which survived the fire. I have actually come in contact with [know-nothing] individuals who were totally unaware of tree farming where we have millions of seedlings ready to transplant each year. We are not in danger of becoming short of forest. I see farmland each day being returned to tree farming, big time.  Sad that so many of those in charge of so much are truly liberal "know-nothings". I was a liberal until I learned that there was so much that I did not know and started learning again. Climate change is a normal process and has been since creation. As we have learned much of the "scientific information" has been proven purposely falsified or twisted to comply with results desired. To think that we, as insignificant individuals on this planet, can change/control climate is also a 'bogus' claim.  

Stephanie Tidwell
Stephanie Tidwell

Excellent, rational article on a controversial topic. Research increasingly shows us that 1. forest fires of this scale are not outside of the 'normal' range (although climate change likely is increasing their severity) and 2. post-fire logging of these landscapes severely sets ecosystem renewal back. Yet, the Forest Service, at the behest of the timber industry, just can't seem to quit putting forth plans to eek out a tidy profit for the industry. 


About a decade ago, after a similarly large, high-severity fire in Oregon dubbed the Biscuit Fire, a forestry graduate student at the U of O led a comparative study of native plant recovery in the burn's logged vs. unlogged areas, and guess what it found: even with replanting, the logged areas regenerated much more slowly than the naturally-recovering areas. What was the response from the agencies/politicians? They tried to suppress the report and besmirch the name of the diligent grad student. They even convened hearings to harass him. They knew they couldn't legitimately contest the research, so they went on the personal attack instead. Meanwhile, the agency went ahead with implementing the largest 'salvage sale' in history. The renegade logging contractor even got away with 'accidentally' logging old-growth trees in a Wilderness area; 'oops,' he said as he got away with a piddly fine. Ultimately, by the time lawsuits stopped the Roadless Area logging, the industry had made off with a tidy profit while the agency was left to clean up their mess.


I'm getting a serious deja vu feeling as the plan to log the Rim Fire area gains more steam.


Let's hope at least a few level heads at the Forest Service have learned their lesson and choose to back the agency off of this ridiculous plan to conduct the landscape equivalent of mugging a burn victim.

Forest Walker
Forest Walker

Are you kidding me? This author needs to do more homework before giving false information. I love the forest and follow very closely how all the projects are put together. Have you ever physically seen a salvage project or even several years after? Before you comment you need to see it not read it. When done properly, which I closely watch for, this type of project is so beneficial.

The RIM fire burned over 200,000 acres and this project is only focusing on 30000 acres. The false information from this author is around the project plan; there is no where in this project area for clear cutting to occur; in fact it is forest service policy to leave snags, litter and debris for wildlife, plant, soil, and fungi habitat.

Also, though fire is a natural process, because of human impacts the type and intensity of fires far exceed historical natural processes.

Sharon Reeve
Sharon Reeve

Downed logs are important as nurse logs for young trees. They are also important to many organisms in the ecosystem. Removing them decreases the health of the system and should not be allowed. 

Brent Foust
Brent Foust

@John Houston: Very interesting.  Every American forester realizes the importance of early German influence on the forestry profession (Never heard much about Spain). Many of the models and formulas we use today were derived by the good German forestry dudes. Do you really think that all of the current forests in Germany are in such shape because of early and  continued conservation practices or lack of infrastructure and that Germany had much more resource to work with than the arid scenes of the spaghetti westerns? You can manage your forest for 500 years and you still have "your forest".  A lot depends on what you have to work with.  Since I work in the private sector, I would rather see the private forests profit from intensive sustainable forestry practices. I do have a spot in my heart for the old growth forests that still remain in some of the public forests.  All foresters like to see the grand old stands.  However, a private landowner should be left alone to practice sound sustainable forestry practices on his private property.  I doubt early germany and spain had the added diversity and benefits of small non-industrial private landowner ownership like in the USA.  Interesting points though

John Houston
John Houston

As non - US citizen I wouldn´t dare to counsel about how to manage the american woods. 

But as an european I would like to point out two different long term ways of wood management in our continent:


Both examples start with roman reports (as so often in Europe) about thick, almost impenetrable woods both in Hispania (modern day Spain & Portugal) and Germania (mostly modern day Germany). 

The romans even stated that in Hispania "a squirrel can travel from the pyrenees (actual french border) to the columns of Hercuiles (actual Gibraltar strait) without touching the ground", meaning jumping from tree to tree.


Nowadays Germany is still lush with woods almost everywhere, anybody driving through Germany will wonder how those "Autobahns" seem to cross miles and miles of woods without end.


Spain is a different matter, great swaths of Spain look like a dessert and have about the same population density, even many Clint Eastwood (Sergio Leone) early movies (films) were done in the Almeria dessert for cost reasons, a squirrel would need a lift by a couple of horses to cross just that one desert.


Yet the interesting fact is that both countries have been managing their woods for over 500 years, laws against damaging the woods have been in place for centuries, clear cutting was banned in many parts as people, even then, understood the importance of sustainable forest management and all kind of limitations were put in place controlling logging in order to avoid permanent damage to the forests.


What happened?


Germany slowly but steadily evolved into an industrial powerhouse in the 18th and 19th century, almost landlocked (but for the north sea) the german navy started in serious with steel ships in the late 1800´s


Spain was a naval power in the mediterranean and the atlantic from the 1500´s until the 19th century, spanish galleys, galeons and all kind of other ships in the thousands roamed the seas for over 300 years and those ships were mostly made of wood.


While both countries (or in the case of Germany all the small countries that would become Germany) tried to manage their forests for very important reasons (in Germany the winters are as cold as in parts the middle-northern US, but so they are in northern Spain), the "productive" pressure in Spain was a lot higher.


Millions of tons of timber were needed to keep the Spanish fleets going, that timber came mostly from the managed and controlled forests of Spain and by the end of the 19th century, when steel shipd started to take over, the forests had already mostly disappeared.


Germany needed wood for construction and heating, their navy was irrelevant for centuries and by the time it became relevant it was a steel navy, therefore the  "productive" pressure was quite inferior.


The Spanish forests are gone, the German forests are still there.


It is up to the US-citizens to evaluate how much "productive" pressure there is on their forests and how much they can endure.

And the good thing is, there is no need to catch a plane to Europe to see the examples, just have a look at Google maps or similar sites...








Diana Ramirez
Diana Ramirez

I can't speak from experience about the trees, but I do know that grass always bounds back more beautifully after a fire.  I have seen it time and time again along highways and roadways.  The grass is always greener where it was previously charred.  Nature knows best, but nature always takes a back seat to greenbacks. Someone needs to get control before it gets out of control - and I'm not talking about the fire.

Douglas Bevington
Douglas Bevington

Thank you to Kenneth Brower for an excellent article on an important issue. I'm glad that National Geographic is paying more attention to the ecological importance of big, intense fires as a natural part of our forest ecosystems. I particularly appreciated Brower's observation that "A burn in the Sierra Nevada is not tragedy; it is simply a stage in the life of the forest."  I have also appreciated learning more about the ecological value of post-fire forests from the Wild Nature Institute and John Muir Project websites. I  visited the Rim Fire area recently, and what stood out for me is how much natural regeneration is already taking place there. Trees that the Forest Service said were dead are growing fresh green needles. Many new trees are sprouting up from the forest floor, along with many wildflowers. And woodpeckers and another wildlife are attracted to the snag forest habitat created by the fire. Yet all of this forest life will be destroyed if the Forest Service goes ahead with its plan to salvage log the Rim Fire. I am very glad that organizations such as John Muir Project are challenging the Forest Service's ridiculous Rim Fire logging plan.  

Richard Halsey
Richard Halsey

The Rim Fire Recovery Project represents a step backward by attempting to justify management actions (salvage logging) to support industrial tree farming and timber production as ecological restoration. The Project is also repeating mistakes made after the 1987 Stanislaus Complex Fire. These mistakes include:

-Exaggerating the impacts of fire exclusion and fire severity.

-Confusing techniques to increase timber harvests with what is needed to protect the natural environment.

-Destruction of fragile post-fire habitat, degradation of biodiversity and watershed function by post-fire logging.

-Causing significant soil disturbance by salvage logging activities.

-Engaging in activities that encourage the spread of invasive weeds.

While the desire to “capture the economic value” of dead trees is understandable, the environmental cost will be in excess of whatever profit is gained. The suggestion by the Forest Service that the profits from such action will be used to fund “other future restoration efforts” is troubling considering the practices used in such efforts after the 1987 fire:

-Planting high density conifer tree farms that increased fire risk and were responsible for increased fire severity in many areas during the Rim Fire. In fact, the impacts of past industrial tree farming likely had more to do with the severity of the Rim Fire than did past fire suppression.

-Wide spread use of chemical agents to eliminate native species perceived as competitors to timber production.

-Extensive soil disturbance of burned ground by tilling.

Contrary to what the Forest Service and others have claimed:

1. Wildfires, severe or not, do not “destroy” or “kill everything.” Post-fire environments represent one of the richest habitats on earth.

2. The frequently demonized “brush,” large stands of dead trees, and vast fields of post fire wildflowersall provide habitat for a multitude of animals and are a natural part of the post-fire ecosystem.

3. Post fire succession is a slow process.

In light of a rapidly changing climate and environment, we all need to re-examine our assumptions about wildfire and our approach to forest management. We need to learn from mistakes made after the 1987 Stanislaus Complex Fire. And most importantly, we need to be patient. Let the forest recover on it's own.

Richard Halsey
Richard Halsey

Mr. Brower, thank you for your timely article. It is well written.

We would like to suggest one important qualifier, however. Regarding chaparral, it is incorrect to say that it "burns frequently because it must burn." The natural fire return interval for chaparral can be anywhere from 30 to 150+ years. This is not frequent. In fact, frequent fires (less than 20 years apart) can type-convert chaparral to non-native systems such as cheatgrass. This has been occurring at lower elevations throughout the state, as evidenced in the foothills of the western Sierra Nevada.


While it is true that ceanothus seeds require heat for their seed coats to rupture to allow germination (manzanita seeds are stimulated to germinate by chemicals from charred wood or smoke), by saying these plants "must burn" ignores that fact that much of the chaparral in California is burning too much, especially in the southern part of the state.


You can read more about the chaparral's relationship to fire on our webpage here:
http://www.californiachaparral.org/threatstochaparral.html


Thank you again for your efforts to help the public understand the environmental damage caused by "salvage" logging. It represents an outdated industrial legacy that needs to be revealed for what it is - an economic exploitation of a valuable public resource.


Brent Foust
Brent Foust

@Myron and Richard: Both of you make my point better than myself.  You are all about "my way or no way".  May I ask you what your area of expertise is?  Surely you have a trade? I should have known better than to get into this emotional debate with a group that is unwilling to listen to the other side. I never said to clearcut the entire area.  How do you manage your garden? And Myron, I guess that I will always be your enemy because I use logging contractors as a  timber management tool to help achieve a desired objective.  You have a vested interest with the oil and gas companies every time you fuel up your hybrid.  Mr Rutter, do you really believe that we should just leave this entire area natural just to see what happens? I realize that you hold a lofty handle, but by installing a blanket plan of "letting the entire area heal on its own" isn't right either.  This is an enormous-sized area that will require enormous efforts to figure out what's best for the future of all the individual stands within the entire area.  I don't think that we were put on this earth to sit around and just let everything do it's own thing.  Granted, sometimes that's best, but not in this case.  A compromise may be to let some of it lay out to see what happens, and maybe manipulate some of it to encourage a natural diverse stocking of a mixture of desirable natural species. You have to realize that me and you share ownership in this land. I don't know the answer to this giant problem.  I do think that everyone needs to compromise a little and use the best available sound and scientific facts to promote the best that every acre has to offer.  One final observation, If local and federal laws would allow, more of these conifer stands should have a rigid prescribed fire program installed. The mountain communities that are surrounded by these explosive forests should design a buffer area and execute calculated prescribed fires periodically to help reduce dangerous excess fuel buildup and help promote natural regeneration. 

Philip Rutter
Philip Rutter

The concept that we should/must "salvage the value" in trees that "are dead or going to die" - was one of the major factors in the crash to near extinction of the American Chestnut.

"They're all going to die; cut in front of the blight" - was an official recommendation.  Most of the most genetically diverse part of the population was cut before it was exposed to the blight; and everywhere in its range, the population was reduced below reproductive capability.  If there were resistant trees; or populations; they never had a chance to show it, or produce seedlings.

Two points- 1) you do NOT know, and CANNOT, standing in the forest for 1 day, KNOW  that this tree "is going to die.".  The fact that it is currently half dead- means NOTHING.  Half dead trees can live for centuries.  But not if they are "harvested."

And 2) In the overwhelming majority of scientific studies on the evolution of "resistance" or "tolerance" to any factor causing catastrophic mortality in any species - evolution just does not occur by a few individuals fortuitously being fully resistant.  Almost always; what happens is that a few individuals are not- quite - killed.  They survive, just barely- and manage to reproduce.  It is in the progeny of the nearly dead - who reproduce with other nearly dead - that genes for resistance are reinforced, in many different known ways, until individuals of the species attain full resistance, and organism vigor.  This has been observed and measured many times.

Those "half dead and dying" trees are the most precious ones in the forest; they AREN'T half dead - they are half ALIVE.  But in any clear cutting operation- they will be cut.

I invite you to read this paper on Butternut; involving 30 years of repeated observations of multiple "half dead" trees- which are still alive, and producing progeny now entering the canopy: www.badgersett.com/info/publications/Bulletin8v1_0.pdf

I would also point out; this burn is easily large enough that we SHOULD experiment with the recovery.  Manage some parts this way; and some that- and track the results for the next two centuries.  It's the only way to learn.

Philip A. Rutter.  Founding President, The American Chestnut Foundation.


Andy Springer
Andy Springer

 This article isn't worth the electrons used to write it.  What folks fail to realize is that there are two ways to manage the forest:

1) Let it burn periodically (natural way)

2) Log it, burn the slash and replant


The current policy of letting things burn is fine if it happens every couple of years.  However, the constant reversal in policy is frustrating our forests.  Not too long ago, we would clearcut and recycle the slash back to the soils.  Just enough trees were left to provide stability to the soil to keep it out of the river.  Then we went through a firefighting craze.  Now we let catastrophic fires run rampant until not a seed is left. All within the lifespan of a lodgepole pine.  We need to think longer term than this and keep forest management policy in the context of generations... rather than a single lifespan.


If you want to see what a disaster the current policies are, please take a hard look the next time you drive Highway 93 in the Bitterroot (MT).  The forests were allowed to burn in 2000, much to the consternation of the residents who first dealt with the respiratory problems and now deal with the lack of tourism, hunting (for food), fishing (due to ash) and eyesore of bare mountain sides.  


Interesting to note that only a small portion of the hillside was burned, the rest died due to the invasion of the pine mountain beetle.  All of the dead wood left to stand on the hill resulted in an explosion in beetle populations.  Previously untouched and healthy sections of forest have been steadily failing since the fires.  Now, the hillside looks more like the surface of the moon than a national park.  I have been a time lapse witness to the loss as I visit every year to my in-laws.  One doesn't need to do a $100k academic study to see what is going on.


If there is a silver lining, it is that the same policies developed in California that caused the carnage in Montana will be now practiced in California.  California will now understand that forest management is not about scorched earth... it is about managing the forest the way a farmer would manage a crop.  Which raises a good point, how successful would a tomato farmer be if he just waited for nature to grow tomatoes on his land... the natural way?


Brent Foust
Brent Foust

I have been a Forestry Consultant for over 20 years and am really not surprised to see an article like this in National Geographic.  I only work for private non-industrial landowners and sometime scoff at some of the practices the US Forest Service executes. It's hard to balance the policy of public land management.  However, where would the benefit lie if you just left all of this terminally damaged timber for the insects and liability of deadfall? Why not SALVAGE stems that are dead or are going to die?  As a taxpayer, and part owner in all public lands, I would rather not waste the potential good use of the terminally damaged trees.  It just seems like some of you are so quick to attack the "evil" loggers and can't see through the smoke of people with their own agenda.  Some of these folks only want everything to be left alone and nobody to be able to use it.  This is public property and multiple use must be considered on every acre.  If a child was killed from a burnt dead snag falling on his head, the same people would scream about the existence of that snag. All of this area should be screened and areas/trees that are toast should be considered for salvage operations.  I'm sure that there will be areas that aren't that bad and they can be managed for the future. I'm sure that Mr. Brower leans more toward "extreme" conservation and will use whatever loopholes that he describes to his own advantage if possible.  This tug-of-war will always affect our public land policies.  As a forester, I am always saddened to see wasteful policy decisions on both sides.  Most foresters that I personally know are acting conservationists and want to do the right thing for the land.  It's only when the bureaucrats, activists, and extremists get involved and try to write and implement policy/regulation about something they know nothing about that things get so screwed up.  Prescribed fire is more beneficial for a forest than not (if executed well). Wildfire is just that.  All fire IS NOT good for a forest. I don't want the US Forest Service wasting a nickle of my tax money and if some of the areas are beyond saving for a viable future forest, execute a managed harvest.  Don't jump to conclusions.  Maybe let the professional foresters do their job? We won't tell you how to teach your class or do your job.  Believe it or not, most foresters got into the job because of their love of the environment.  I just get so sick of hearing all the haters and extreme environmentalists push their views and beliefs into the policies that the Forest Service must implement.  I can appreciate the emotion when it comes to our National Forests.  Us foresters love them too. Stay involved, but have a little more faith in the foresters that are trying to do what's right for the forest.  

Myron Pitts
Myron Pitts

It's a shame that pieces like this even have to be written. Even kindergartners should know by now that fire is good for forests, and we shouldn't be in there logging after a fire. In so many cases, greed causes us to be deliberately obtuse about what we do to the environment.

Peter Stallard
Peter Stallard

It makes me wonder when I read some of these posts if many of these posts come from people working in the logging industry.They have a lot to lose if people are convinced that clear cutting is wrong and the Forest Service changes its mind.

All too frequently theses days naysayers about anything connected to environmental and climatic concerns think of money first and the health of the planet just about last.Nature took millions of years to develop perfect strategies for dealing with just about any eventuality except us humans that arrogantly insist that we know always know better especially when their is an opportunity for profit.

Gerard Van der Leun
Gerard Van der Leun

As he has for pretty much his whole life,  Kenny's just working in dad's enviro pop stand grunting out the same old logs. I note that, given the persistence of drought in California, Nat Geo did not choose to highlight this Birkenstock nutter's really brilliant book advocating that the state dump the Hetch Hetchy reservoir system so that he and his fellow con artists have more room to ride their hobby horses.


As a writer and thinker and activist, Kenny isn't a patch on daddy Dave but he struggles on to keep pulling his pay out of your  guilt. It's shameful but at this point its all he has.

Brian Allisob
Brian Allisob

If you want to return the forest to its "natural" state, log it. Take out most of the dead trees. The stands are too thick, and they wouldn't be that thick and crowded if humans hadn't been putting out all fires for the past 100 years. Thinning it now will allow in more sunlight to regenerate a healthier forest; otherwise, you'll have a tangled mess of charred logs for another 100 years or more. Critics of salvage logging just hate to see logging trucks, can't stand that someone might make a dime off of their romantic notions of what constitutes a forest.

John Bascom
John Bascom

Love the way liberals make decisions on "feelings" rather than facts or science.  And pointing out the fire in question was set by an evil "hunter", not a gentle backpacker. Of course the logging would be unduly "hazardous"!  According to whom?  And God-forbid we allow a "bonanza for the timber industry."  Could it all be due to "cataclysmic Climate Change" (my quote, not the article's author).  Hilarious.  I'm not sure whether the logging should go ahead or not, but thank goodness this article's drivel will be ignored in the decision process.

Robert Sellers
Robert Sellers

@Justine Habib  If the terrain allows it is sometimes better to till the thick  nutrient laden mulch into the soil and allow it to decay and replenish the soil and the many seeds can then have a stronger root system.  The heavy equipment tends to stir the mulch and grind it into the soil. So it not  detrimental to the new crop of trees. The huge layer of mulch is most important when it gets tilled into the soil.  Same as when you plant your vegetable garden and flower beds; digging in peat, stable manure  and sphagnum moss to enrich and loosen  the soil for the tinder new roots. People who make their living in the forest want to do what is best to protect and replenish the crops they are farming and harvesting for a living.

debbie viess
debbie viess

@Robert Sellers Gosh Bob, you sure have some strong opinions, but where oh where do you get your information?


Would you consider folks who have dedicated their lives to wildlife research and management to be "informed" about spotted owl natural history?


Here's a link to a policy paper on Spotted Owls in Oregon, that sums it up much better than I can:


http://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/Species/Data/NorthernSpottedOwl/


Perhaps you were unaware that Spotted Owls primarily feed on flying squirrels, which in their turn feed on fungi/truffles? These owls prefer old growth for their purposes, both feeding and nesting. Sure, they will take advantage of other habitats as necessary, but old growth provides all that they need. It is the fragmentation of old growth forests that has led to the decline in their population, now accelerated by competition with the Barred Owl, who moved into the west on its own power, well documented by wildlife researchers.


But I always enjoy learning new facts! Please link to the the published research that fortifies YOUR argument!  


BTW, while up in the PNW Ia few years back, I visited a remnant chunk of old growth forest, with ancient Douglas Firs that towered above me. It was a pathetic little piece of land about a city block in size. Talk about a "tree museum!" Gaia weeps, and those of us with empathy for the forest and her denizens weeps right along with her.

Richard Halsey
Richard Halsey

@Robert Sellers Robert, it would be helpful if you dispensed with ad hominem attacks on people you do not know and brushed up on the science of climate change. Can you cite some examples of when and where scientific information has been twisted to "comply with results desired" in reference to well accepted phenomena such as climate change?

John Houston
John Houston

@Brent Foust

If you look at German forest ownership you will find that many, and in some regions almost all owners come from very old families who have been holding onto that land for several centuries (actually many of them are "lesser nobility", counts, earls and so on). 

Those holdings are not huge by american standards, a couple of hundred hectars at most ,and have been run for timber for centuries by the owners. Often even taxes were paid in form of timber, the "Klafter" meaning a acertain amount of cut and stacked timber was a standardized measure in many German states. 

Forest were and are a form of agriculture in Germany, so Yes, they have been "harvested" for all those years albeit with great care not to damage the substance.

Jay Cwanek
Jay Cwanek

.


@John Houston


Good try, but the thick "Black Forests" of Germany reported in Roman times were beech trees, of which there are now virtually none, and not the now-prevalent pine trees.  Anyone who has walked through the Black Forest, rather light and airy, must have wondered how it was given its name.  The beeches were cut and burnt by Germans for charcoal and firewood.


The centuries-old damage to Spain's forests comes from allowing goats in to graze after forest fires.  The goats eat all seedlings, and saplings never live to rise into trees.


.

Philip Rutter
Philip Rutter

@Richard Halsey Hear, hear.  This, too: "Planting high density conifer tree farms"  is a crime against humanity, as well as the forest.  What they are really doing is "eradicating local genetic diversity, and replacing it with a genetic monoculture- with likely no survivability in the changing climate."  All forest geneticists should be screaming.  

And, "eliminate native species perceived as competitors to timber production"  means "Eradicating all habitat that normally serves to keep predatory insect and spider and parasitoid species  alive."

And, "the environmental cost will be in excess of whatever profit is gained."  Well, sure; but doing it the old way means profits go to the right people (the 1%),  not those silly 99%ers, who won't appreciate it anyway.  :-/

Jay Cwanek
Jay Cwanek

.


@Brent Foust


Where I live,  in Orange County California, every single one of the "prescribed burns" in the last 30 years exceeded its planned burn zone, and a number blew into massive brushfires that destroyed many thousands of acres and any number of homes.  They are poorly executed, even by professionals, if done anytime after the foliage has completely dried post-rain.


.

Richard G.
Richard G.

@Brent Foust  Do you think that this scarred land really needs bulldozers, skidders and logging trucks turning it into a muddy, mucky, mess? Your precious tax dollars will then go towards abating the erosion and silt filled streams that are killing the native fish.

anne boad
anne boad

@Gerard Van der Leun I refer you to Brian Allisob's post, in which he makes a case for logging in a reasoned manner, without insults. Your post immediately got my back up, and I ignored your point, while Bob's made me do a bit more research and shift my position a bit.


Richard Halsey
Richard Halsey

@Brian Allisob  Brian, a significant portion of the area burned by the Rim Fire had been "entered" many times by loggers, salvaged logged after the 1987 fire, sprayed with tons of herbicide, and replanted as dense tree farms. All of this set up much of the condition being falsely blamed on past fire suppression. It was industrial logging that caused much of the problem you are addressing, not fire suppression or romantic notions.


We need to stop this endless cycle of poor forest management now and let the forest heal on its own. The science is clear on this point. As Mr. Brower pointed out in the article, the regeneration in much of the burn is remarkable. It doesn't need our "help." "Salvage" logging will only disturb a system once again that has already been disturbed too much already.
 

More here:
http://www.californiachaparral.org/fire/postfireenvironment.html


Richard Halsey

Director

California Chaparral Institute


Wolf SilverOak
Wolf SilverOak

@Brian Allisob  It will not take 100 years for logs to rot, burned or not.


And yes, a forest fire CAN be healthy for an overgrown forest, as it clears out the thick underbrush. But forest fires happened long before we came along, so who would have cleared out the blackened logs then? Oh right, no one as they rotted away, allowing seeds to germinate in them and provided excellant compost and mulch for the new growth.


Removing the burned/blackened logs and trees, removes all that and disruptes the growth cycle of a natural woodland. By removing them, there will be little to no places for seeds to germinate and grow in and on.


It's absolutely nothing to do with logging trucks- where I live, I don't see them except rarely on the Interstate- and everything to do with allowing new seeds to germinate in fallen, burned logs as Nature intended.

Richard Halsey
Richard Halsey

@John Bascom John, not sure who the "liberals" are you are trying to label in your ad hominen attack, but the facts do indeed speak for themselves. The science is clear. Salvage logging is environmentally damaging and needs to end. To quote three of the most well respected forest fire researchers,

"The notion that salvage logging assists the ecological recovery of naturally disturbed forests is fundamentally incorrect. Hence justifications for salvage logging based on contributions to ecological recovery have little merit. We know of few circumstances where salvage logging has been demonstrated to directly contribute to recovery of ecological processes or biodiversity."

- Lindenmayer, D.B., P.J. Burton, and J.F. Franklin. 2008. Salvage Logging and its Ecological Consequences. Island Press

Wolf SilverOak
Wolf SilverOak

@John Bascom  It has nothing to do with 'liberals' and everything to do with allowing nature to take its course in the aftermath of a forest fire.


Human intervention is exactly why many species are now in danger of being wiped out. That has nothing to do with liberals, conservatives, or any politicians, since we're all human.

Ryan Aydelott
Ryan Aydelott

It's a national forest, there should be parts of our country that are left in as much of a precivilzatiion state as possible. Don't care that the fire occurred, if not for the hunter a lightning strike would have done the job just as well.

Point of the article is that a burned forest is as much a part of an ecosystem as any other non burned forest. Trees have been burning long before we came here, somehow they where still standing when we got here. The Forest Service is a political construct, hopefully they stick with their original charter here.

debbie viess
debbie viess

@Robert Sellers @Justine Habib

Dude. Our national forests are NOT your farm! Unless you are planning on growing a monoculture of trees, that heavy machinery does NOT help the forest to re-grow! A forest is way more than a single, lumber-valuable tree species.


John Houston
John Houston

@Jay Cwanek

Sorry, the "Black Forest" is a mountain range in south western Germany and although quite famous it ´s just one of many German forests (1/3 of the German landscape is covered by forests).

You are right the Schwarzwald used to be a mixed forest of beeches and firs, the pines were planted mostly in the 19th century as most of the firs had been cleared  in order to provide construction and shipping material for the Dutch and German market. The foundations of most of the ancient buildings in Amsterdam are made from those firs.


The goat theory was put forward in the 70´s and although goats could have done much damage it is based on an error, Spain had huge herds of sheep, (the once famed Merino sheep, priced for its wool) not goats.


Brian Allisob
Brian Allisob

@myron, Brent Foust wrote, "non-industrial" landowners, exactly the opposite of a "vested interest" in logging.

@Richard, the area of the Rim Fire is quite dry, there will be no "muddy, mucky mess." And, yes, the tools of logging - skidders, etc. - will be quite beneficial if done in an intelligent manner. Brent Foust knows what he's talking about.

Brian Allisob
Brian Allisob

My point was, there were not nearly as many trees "before we came along." By putting out fires, we have created an unhealthy forest environment. Now, forest fires crown out instead of just clearing the underbrush and we're left with an even worse situation. Salvage logging will help restore the balance that existed before. And I don't know where you're from, but it does take a hundred years for fallen conifers to rot away in the arid climate of the Central Sierra. You won't see any seedlings sprouting out of those logs before this century is over. This is not the Pacific Northwest, where the process is accelerated by constant moisture. Logging will do the forest nothing but good.

Brian Allisob
Brian Allisob

Ryan, their original charter is for "multi-use": Recreation, logging, mining, etc. I believe you are confusing National Forests with National Parks, whose mandate is complete preservation. This is a big country, there is room, and a need, for both.

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