Once A Forest is a community organization based in Santa Fe, NM, supporting
living forests and community-inclusive decision making about forest health.
We are troubled by the US Forest Service's forest management practices that deny global warming and ignore current science. Research has clearly shown that "thinning" (aka clearcutting) and prescribed burning do not prevent wildfires. Our task is to persuade the Forest Service to stop deforesting public lands and start planting billions of trees, while there is still time.
More Good News: Creating defensible space 100 feet around one's own home—not destroying huge swaths of forest—is the best way to protect wildland homes from wildfire.
MISLEADING LANGUAGE: "THINNING" AND FOREST "RESTORATION"
We are concerned about the Forest Service's manipulating and controlling public debate about its destruction of forests. The timber industry and the U.S. Forest Service aggressively market the idea that logging/thinning programs will result in a significant decrease in acreage burned, firefighting costs and the number of high-severity fires, yet there is little evidence to support their claims. The Forest Service uses deceptive language, like "thinning" (aka clearcutting), and terms like "restoration" and "treatment" to describe burning, logging, clearcutting, and firebombing forests with toxic chemicals. Local communities are excluded from decision making.
The Forest Service and its collaborators claim that they are mimicking nature in starting "little" fires to prevent bigger fires, but lower severity fires were not as common in nature as has been thought, and prescribed burns adversely affect biodiversity. Forestry practices are based on agriculture (thinning to increase growth and improve timber yield) and are thus fundamentally in conflict with natural selection.
A letter to forest decision makers signed by more than 200 scientists states that prescribed burning and thinning in today's drought conditions do nothing to mitigate fire. Burned and clearcut forests are unlikely to regrow under drought conditions. In other words, prescribed burning and thinning are effectively deforestation.
The likelihood of a wildfire coming in contact with a prescribed burned or "thinned" area is only 2.0 to 4.2%. Modeling results in this study confirmed that fire-fuel "treatment" encounters are rare, and that fire suppression cost savings are zero. That fact alone should be reason enough to stop wasting tax dollars on futile, toxic and destructive thinning and burning.
THE FUTURE OF FIRES
Earth's trees are disappearing at a staggering rate. Between 1990 and 2016, the world lost 502,000 square miles of forest. One-fourth of global warming is due to deforestation. Global warming causes drought and extreme winds, the perfect conditions for huge, destructive wildfires.
Trees are our most powerful weapon in the fight against climate change and the Forest Service is destroying them at an alarming rate. Sections 6701(b)5 and (c)3 of the Global Climate Change Prevention Act of 1990 says projects must mitigate, not exacerbate global warming. Burning one acre of coniferous woods releases 4.81 tons of carbon, and all the mercury, methane, DDT, DDE, and radionuclides that these trees are storing.
CATASTROPHIC CONSEQUENCES WHEN "CONTROLLED" BURNS GO WRONG
We remember the Cerro Grande Fire (May 10, 2000), a prescribed burn intentionally set in high winds by the U.S. Park Service that caused the most destructive wildfire in New Mexico recorded history.
More than 18,000 residents of Los Alamos and White Rock were evacuated. The fire destroyed 235 homes and damaged many other structures. The fire reached atomic research facilities at Los Alamos National Laboratory, burning the facility’s lands. Fortunately no release of radiation was reported. The fire burned almost 50,000 forested acres in Bandelier National Monument, the Santa Fe National Forest, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos County, and the Santa Clara and San Ildefonso Indian Pueblos, causing about $1 billion in property damage.
We should have learned from the Cerro Grande Fire that thinking prescribed burns are "controlled" is the worst kind of folly, but we didn't. The destruction of prescribed burns continues. Their scale has grown exponentially as have profits from outsourcing the immolation of our forests.
Approximately 1,000 prescribed burns become out-of-control wildfires every year. The numbers are difficult to know, because the Forest Service claims not to know how many acres it burns!
Prescribed burns are ignited via aerial firebombing of potassium permanganate, "Forester's Napalm," a neurotoxin. The residue of this highly toxic chemical pollutes our air, soil, and water. Air quality during the burns is extremely hazardous.
Prescribed burns do not save the big old trees. Wildlife are burned with chemicals and fire, killed, and maimed. Slow moving animals are incinerated; all others made homeless. The Forest Service routinely violates laws against disturbing nesting birds.
A glance at New Mexico's scarred Jemez Mountains reminds us that forests do not bounce back in the drought conditions that frequently plague the West and are likely to worsen with global warming. Even if a forest eventually partially recovers, it is not better off for having been burned. Wildlife and trees destroyed in fire are gone forever.
Policies and initiatives that aim to uniformly reduce "fuels" (what the Forest Service calls trees) and fire severity adversely affect biological diversity.
Even if we reduce "fuels" (trees), we are still going to have severe fires, because of extreme weather—especially in the Western United States.