top of page


Files and links supporting healthy forests

Prescribed burning and thinning methods can actually cause deforestation in environments suffering under severe drought conditions, where burned and clearcut forests are unlikely to regrow. Prescribed burns also 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. Read below for more information and to see our sources  —

Video:  All the crucial current research, by Chad Hanson

A presentation given by UPHE President Dr. Brian Moench and Dr. Chad Hanson of the John Muir Project, on why citizens should demand this program of chain saw, bonfire, and pesticide forest management be overturned.

From the Editor

The dominant current approaches to wildfire policy promoted by the Forest Service— wildlands fire suppression and forest alteration through extensive tree-cutting—are failing to keep the public safe, with record losses of lives and homes during wildfires.

Do you ever think, “Gee, the air is really awful with smoke today but the air quality report says fine, or moderate.” That is because New Mexico uses a loophole in the Air Quality Act that subtracts air pollution impacts of “Acts of God, wildfires, etc.,” from pollution data before publishing the air quality rating. We are being told the danger of smoke pollution is much less than it really is. How misleading!

We learn more every year about the extreme toxicity and ill effects of the constant “prescribed” burning. On Aug. 13, the CNN announcer stated that the worst cases of dementia had lived near forest fires or agriculture. Yet the Forest Service refuses to do a health impact assessment.

The Forest Service won’t follow the restrictions and requirements in the National Environmental Policy Act. They “manage” many sparks into huge fires, maybe 70,000, or 100,000 acres. That is 337,000 or 481,000 tons of carbon released. That includes the radionuclides those trees absorbed from the bomb tests in the ‘40s and ‘50s. It is important to understand that when the Forest Service says it is “managing (a fire) for forest health,” it is Orwellian doublespeak for “we are dumping diesel and other fuels on a fire to make it bigger.”

How can we understand the complicated issues between the Forest Service, the community, and the forest?


After the recent tragic disasters of the Forest Service prescribed burns getting out of control, 18,000 families were displaced.  Some of them got to come home.  Many others had no home to come home to.  The acreage burned released approximately 1.6 million tons of carbon, adding to climate change.

Protecting Homes Against Wildfire

The dominant current approaches to wildfire policy promoted by the Forest Service— wildlands fire suppression and forest alteration through extensive tree-cutting—are failing to keep the public safe, with record losses of lives and homes during wildfires.

In contrast, an approach of “working from the home outward,” focusing on fire-safety home retrofits and the zone immediately around houses and communities, offers the most effective and cost-efficient tools for increasing public safety during wildfires.

Most wildfire-related government funding subsidizes forest alteration and fire suppression rather than home-outward actions, even in “all of the above” approaches to fire policy. Less than 4% of California’s 2021 fire-related budget is for “community hardening.”

The Right Way to Create Defensible Space: Recommendations from CAL FIRE (now mandatory in California)

Zone 1: 30 feet of lean, clean, and green

  1. Remove all dead plants, grass, and weeds.

  2. Remove dead or dry leaves and pine needles from your yard, roof, and rain gutters.

  3. Keep tree branches 10 feet away from your chimney and other trees.

Zone 2: 30–100 feet of reduced fuel

   4. Cut or mow annual grass down to a maximum height of 4 inches.

   5. Create horizontal spacing between shrubs and trees.

   6. Create vertical spacing between grass, shrubs, and trees.

Research has demonstrated that wildfire severity is greatest in forests that are “actively managed” which is a euphemism for logging.

Reporter Stephanie Joyce spoke with Jack Cohen, a retired Research Physical Scientist; Mark Finney, a Research Scientist with the U.S. Forest Service; and Shawna Legarza, the National Director of Fire and Aviation Management for the Forest Service. Jack Cohen: “The bottom line is that we can do something. It just doesn’t have anything to do with controlling the wildfire.” 

The new codes require homes be built with, among other things, interior sprinklers, fire resistant roofs and sidings, decks and patios made of non-flammable materials, and heat-resistant windows. Homes built after these codes went into effect have stood a much better chance of going undamaged.

Tree density, Forest "Management," and The Case Against "Thinning" and Burning

Geos Institute, September 2018

Policies should be examined that discourage continued residential growth in ecosystems that evolved with fire. The most effective way to protect existing homes is to ensure that they are as insusceptible to burning as possible (e.g., fire resistant building materials, spark arresting vents and rain-gutter guards) and to create defensible space within a 100-foot radius of a structure.

Wildland fire policy should fund defensible space, home retrofitting measures and ensure ample personnel are available to discourage and prevent human-caused wildfire ignitions. Ultimately, in order to stabilize and ideally slow global temperature rise, which will increasingly affect how wildfires burn in the future, we also need a comprehensive response to climate change that is based on clean renewable energy and storing more carbon in ecosystems. Public lands were established for the public good and include most of the nation’s remaining examples of intact ecosystems that provide clean water for millions of Americans, essential wildlife habitat, recreation and economic benefits to rural communities, as well as sequestering vast quantities of carbon.

One of the favorite responses of some politicians to devastating wildfires is to call for increased logging on public lands. Their reasoning is that having fewer trees will prevent large fires. The fact is that logging does not eliminate forest fires. . . . For these reasons, we urge you to reject misplaced logging proposals that will damage our environment, hinder climate mitigation goals, and will fail to protect communities from wildfire.

Thinning Is Ineffective in Extreme Fire Weather – Thinning is most often proposed to reduce fire risk and lower fire intensity. When fire weather is not extreme, thinning-from-below of small diameter trees followed by prescribed fire, and in some cases prescribed fire alone, can reduce fire severity in certain forest types for a limited period of time. However, as the climate changes, most of our fires will occur during extreme fire-weather (high winds and temperatures, low humidity, low vegetation moisture). These fires, like the ones burning in the West this summer, will affect large landscapes, regardless of thinning, and, in some cases, burn hundreds or thousands of acres in just a few days. Thinning large trees, including overstory trees in a stand, can increase the rate of fire spread by opening up the forest to increased wind velocity, damage soils, introduce invasive species that increase flammable understory vegetation, and impact wildlife habitat.

“This is a home ignition problem much more than a wildland management problem,” one fire ecologist said.

The U.S. Forest Service recently proposed a sweeping effort to identify aspects of environmental analysis and public participation to be “reduced” or “eliminated” regarding commercial logging projects in our national forests, with initial public comments due Friday. The Trump administration is attempting to spin this as an effort to promote “increased efficiency” for the expansion of forest “restoration,” but these are just euphemisms for more destructive logging.

In 2017 the Trump administration endorsed the Resilient Federal Forests Act, an extreme bill that would dramatically curtail environmental analysis and restrict public participation to increase logging of old forests and post-fire clear-cutting in our national forests. The bill passed the House of Representatives in the fall but stalled in the Senate. This new regulatory proposal is simply an effort to implement the same pro-logging agenda without going through Congress.

The proposal targets an astonishing “80 million acres of National Forest System land” for commercial logging — much of it comprising old-growth forests and remote roadless areas — based on the claim that logging and clear-cutting of these areas is needed, ostensibly to save them from fire and native bark beetles. Not so. . .

Previously burned forests burn with higher severity.

The Role of Forests in Mitigating Global Warming

A new 3-minute video from NASA allows us to witness in brilliant color how trees scrub Earth's atmosphere clean of carbon pollutants.

Massive restoration of world’s forests would cancel out a decade of CO2 emissions, analysis suggests.

Old growth forests are carbon sinks. They remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The sequestered carbon dioxide is stored in live woody tissues and slowly decomposing organic matter in litter and soil. Old-growth forests therefore serve as a global carbon dioxide sink, but they are not protected by international treaties . . .

Logging has been shown to reduce the genetic diversity of our forests, thus reducing the “resilience” of forest ecosystems.

Inaccuracies in Forest Service Reconstructions of Fire History

The Forest Service and entities that profit from clearcutting and prescribed burning would have us believe that low severity fires were historically more common, and that high severity fires were rare, even though the methods used to draw these conclusions have been thoroughly discredited. They use these erroneous claims to justify burning and logging as "forest restoration."  

One of the cornerstones of current forest policy is the assumption that western forests are outside of their “normal” density and appearance or what is termed “historic variability” due a hundred years of mismanagement that included logging of old growth, fire suppression, and livestock grazing. This idea has been used to justify logging public lands to “restore” forests to their pre-management era appearance and resiliency. Due to this past mismanagement we are told that forests are “overgrown,” and ready to burn.

. . . .whether the current forest stand condition is that far from conditions that have occurred infrequently in the past is a matter of increasing debate.  This is especially important because public land management agencies feel the pressure to DO something beyond waiting for nature to do what it always does to “restore” forest conditions. . .

Journal of Biogeography 34(2):251 - 269, February 2007

April 26, 2019.

 ". . . western plant communities including Douglas fir, aspen, true firs, sagebrush, and juniper to name a few, were historically dominated by episodic high severity blazes. . . . Ironically the proposed solution, more logging and thinning, increases carbon discharges far more than wildfire, contributing to greater climate warming, which in turn spawns more blazes. 

The best way to reduce carbon emissions is to keep it in the forest by precluding logging/thinning.  Furthermore, many studies find that “fuel reductions” aka thinning/logging do not appreciably reduce large fires. Instead, thinning or logging increases fire spread. 

Jonathan J. Rhodes and William L. Baker, The Open Forest Science Journal, 2008, I, 1-7

"Fuel treatments," i.e., prescribed burns are damaging and ineffective.  Fuel treatment effectiveness and non-treatment risks can be estimated from the probability of fire occurrence. Using extensive fire records for western US Forest Service lands, we estimate fuel treatments have a mean probability of 2.0-7.9% of encountering moderate- or high-severity fire during an assumed 20-year period of reduced fuels

February, 2012

New research shows that western dry forests were not uniform, open forests, as commonly thought, before widespread logging and grazing, but included both dense and open forests, as well as large high-intensity fires previously considered rare in these forests. The study used detailed analysis of records from land surveys, conducted in the late-1800s, to reconstruct forest structure over very large dry-forest landscapes, often dominated by ponderosa pine forests.   Previous studies were hampered by the limitations inherent in tree-ring reconstructions from small, isolated field plots that may be unrepresentative of larger landscapes.  The study. . . does not support the idea that frequent low-intensity fires historically prevented high-intensity fires in dry forests. 

The Increasing Scale of Forest Service Burns and the Forest Service Plan to Destroy 95% of Trees on Public Lands 

ARTICLE FROM THE SANTA FE NEW MEXICAN, JULY 2, 2012, quoting Bill Armstrong, fuel specialist for the Santa Fe National Forest: “We have more [trees] than we know what to do with, and they are the cause of many of the problems we face. We’re going to do everything we can to get rid of about 95 percent of them.”

PAGE FROM THE CITY OF SANTA FE'S WEBSITE, stating the plan "to restore tree density to natural fire regime levels (reduced from >1,000 trees per acre to 20-50 trees per acre). From 1000 trees to 50 trees is a 95% reduction.

STATEMENT FOR THE 200,000-ACRE JEMEZ MOUNTAINS PROJECT, page 25, "Tree densities have increased 10-fold, from an average of 15-56 trees per acre to 500 trees per acre." From 500 trees to 15-56 trees is about a 95% reduction.  forestservic.akamai.pdf

Health Risks of Prescribed Burns

Fire helicopter fighting large fire

The Forest Service starts almost all prescribed burns via "aerial ignition"--and does not like to talk about what "aerial ignition" really means. They tell us that the incendiary devices are Delayed Aerial Ignition Devices (DAIDs) dropped from helicopters. The Forest Service's failure to analyze the effects violates Code of Federal Regulation § 1501.2(b), requiring each agency to identify environmental effects in adequate detail, and C.F.R. § 1508.8: Read More: Once A Forest Fact Sheet

January 2015

Potassium permanganate and antifreeze are the primary active ingredients in the styrofoam "ping pong" spheres delivered by aerial firebombing and hand-held launchers to ignite prescribed burns and backburns.  The spheres are delivered directly onto trees, soil, wildlife, streams, rivers, reservoirs, and lakes in the process of prescribed burn ignitions.  The scale of the burns is often hundreds or thousands of acres, and these toxic materials are released into the air upon ignition, making smoke from prescribed burns much more toxic than smoke from a forest fire, which is itself highly toxic.


1. EYE CONTACT Potassium Permanganate is damaging to eye tissue on contact. It may cause severe burns that result in damage to the eye.

2. SKIN CONTACT Contact of solutions at room temperature may be irritating to the skin, leaving brown stains. Concentrated solutions at elevated temperature and crystals are damaging to the skin.

3. INHALATION Acute inhalation toxicity data are not available. However, airborne concentrations of potassium permanganate in the form of dust or mist may cause damage to the respiratory tract.

4. INGESTION Potassium permanganate, if swallowed, may cause severe burns to mucous membranes of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and stomachSection 3 Hazardous Ingredients MATERIAL OR COMPONENT CAS NO. EINECS % HAZARD DATA Potassium Permanganate 7722-64-7 231-760-3 >97.5% PEL/C 5 mg Mn per cubic meter of air TLV-TWA 0.2 mg Mn per cubic meter of air RISK PHRASES: 8 Contact with combustibles may case fire. 22 Harmful if swallowed. 

Very toxic to aquatic organisms, may cause long-term effects in the aquatic environment.


SAFETY PHRASES: 60 This material and its container must be disposed of as hazardous waste. 61 Avoid releases to the environment. . . . Section 5 Fire Fighting Measures NEPA* HAZARD SIGNS Health Hazard 1 = Materials which under fire conditions would give off irritating combustion products. (less than 1 hour exposure) . . . Avoid inhalation and contact with eyes and skin. . .


ENVIRONMENTAL PRECAUTIONS: Do not flush into sanitary sewer system or surface water. If accidental release into the environment occurs, inform the responsible authorities. Keep the product away from drains, sewers, surface and ground water and soil. :008 2009-08-28 Annotation: combustible, organic, or easily oxidizable materials including antifreeze and hydraulic fluid. Section 8 Exposure Controls and Personal Protection

RESPIRATORY PROTECTION: where overexposure to dust may occur, the use of an approved NIOSHMSHA dust respirator or an air supplied respirator is advised. . . . When involved in a fire, potassium permanganate may liberate corrosive fumes. . . . The product may be absorbed into the body by inhalation. Major effects of exposure: respiratory disorder. . .

MEDICAL CONDITIONS GENERALLY AGGRAVATED BY EXPOSURE Potassium permanganate solution will cause further irritation of tissue, open wounds, burns or mucous membranes. . . . .


ENTRY TO THE ENVIRONMENT . . .  . AQUATIC TOXICITY The toxicity data for potassium permanganate is given below: Rainbow trout, 96 hour LC50: 1.8 mg/L Bluegill sunfish, 96 hour LC50: 2.3 mg/L Milk fish (Chanos Chanos)/ 96 hour. . . . Very toxic to aquatic organisms, may cause long-term effects in the aquatic environment.


SAFETY PHRASES: 60 This material and its container must be disposed of as hazardous waste. 61 Avoid releases to the environment. 

Environmental Health Policy Institute, April 2013

An important study, in light of the fact that very little research has been done on the health effects of prescribed burns.  Whether due to wildfires or “[prescribed] burns,” fires result in increased release of particulate matter (PM) that has a negative impact on human health.  In addition, fires release greenhouse gases that make for a vicious cycle of rising temperatures and increasing wildfires. This problem is particularly severe in the Southwest, which is experiencing warming conditions greater than anywhere in the United States except Alaska.

Potassium permanganate is used to ignite prescribed burns and backfires, via aerial (helicopter) firebombing and handheld or boat-mounted launchers by the US Forest Service and its privatized burn contractors.  Polymer spheres resembling ping-pong balls containing small amounts of permanganate are injected with ethylene glycol and they spontaneously ignite seconds later.  This fact sheet provides toxicity data of manganese dioxide, the waste product of potassium permanganate.

The Fire Industrial Complex

Burning, clearcutting, firefighting and profit. Follow the money.

Santa Fe New Mexican, July 25, 2015

Follow the money!  Prescribed burning is about lucrative private contracts, not forest health or human safety.  By Arthur Firstenberg, Fire Industrial Complex researcher and member of Once A Forest.

Al Jazeera America, October 24, 2013

A look inside the lucrative private contracting that drives the "Fire Industrial Complex." 

"We call it the fire industrial complex," said Timothy Ingalsbee, a former U.S. Forest Service firefighter and now executive director of Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology, a nonprofit in Eugene, Ore., dedicated to environmentally sound fire management. "It's big business, and business is booming.  Critics say contracting out traditionally public functions - a practice that in the Iraq war has led to privately organized security details and troop support services - shifts accountability, can be more expensive and erodes people's confidence in government."

What's worrying about private firefighters is that there are growing portions of the economy that are banking on, gambling on, that there are going to be more and more natural disasters," said Naomi Klein, author of the book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

Prescribed Burns Out of Control

Michael Janofsky, The New York Times, May 19, 2000

"With a scathing indictment of the federal response to fires that have now burned nearly 80 square miles of northern New Mexico and more than 400 housing units, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said today that the government was wholly to blame and would do whatever possible to compensate victims."

Bill Gabbert, Wildfire Today, May 10, 2010

On May 10, 2000, a fire that began as a prescribed fire in Bandalier National Monument burned into Los Alamos, New Mexico.  The towns of Los Alamos and White Rock were in the fire’s path and more than 18,000 residents were evacuated. By the end of the day on May 10, the fire had burned 18,000 acres, destroyed 235 homes, and damaged many other structures. The fire also spread towards the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and although fires spotted onto the facility’s lands, all major structures were secured and no releases of radiation occurred.

The Cerro Grande Fire was the largest, most destructive wildfire that New Mexico has ever known. The fire swept across 47,000 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 Reservations, causing about $ 1 billion in property damage. Over 280 homes were destroyed or damaged and 40 Laboratory structures burned.

Steven Goddard, March 4, 2011

"After the fire stopped, the government had to quickly build huge dams (ahead of the summer monsoons) to stop the spread of shallow buried WWII nuclear waste into the Rio Grande"

C. A. Kolden, July 2005

Master's thesis on escaped prescribed burns (they rose from zero per year in 1970 to 900 per year in 2002 in California and Nevada alone)

WIldfire Today June 12, 2018

The Trail Mountain Fire burned 2,637 acres in central Utah.

Rapid City Journal, April 14, 2015

Wind Cave Prescribed Burn Gets Out of Control

WIND CAVE NATIONAL PARK | "A prescribed burn escaped from its planned fire boundaries, 'got into a long line of trees and there was no way to get it under control.' ...according to a previous news release, 1,199 acres were burned."

US News/NBC News, March 28, 2012

CONIFER, Colo. -- Colorado will likely suspend prescribed burns like the one blamed for the deadly wildfire near Denver, Gov. John Hickenlooper said Wednesday as video of one family’s harrowing escape from flames emerged.

The Dog Head Fire

The Dog Head Fire burned more than 18,000 acres and twelve homes on the historic Chilili Land Grant in New Mexico, USA, June - July 2016. The US Forest Service was slow to admit that its contractors started the fire with sparks from a masticator deforestation machine and that it then ordered workers not to suppress the fire

Edgewood News July 25, 2015

The Forest Service started the Dog Head Fire, through its fuel reduction policy and land management.

Albuquerque Journal, July 1, 2016

Brush clearing effort triggered devastating Dog Head Fire

CHILILI – U.S. Forest Service officials on Friday confirmed Journal reports that the cause of the Dog Head Fire in the Manzano Mountains was tied to a federally funded wildland brush and wood clearing effort designed to prevent exactly that kind of wildfire.

Once A Forest Editorials

Opinion pieces written by Once A Forest members.

You can write one too! Submitting a letter to the editor of opinion piece to your local newspaper is a great way to get involved with our effort and reach out to the public in support of healthy forests.


Dorothy Holasek, Albuquerque Journal, July 5, 2017

Cate Moses, Ph.D., Santa Fe New Mexican, Oct. 22, 2015

Arthur Firstenberg, Santa Fe New Mexican, July 25, 2015

Follow the money! Prescribed burning is about lucrative private contracts, not forest health or human safety.  By Arthur Firstenberg, Fire Industrial Complex researcher and member of Once A Forest.

The Forest Service has burned 35000 acres in New Mexico so far this year. They plan to burn 2900.  Burning forests in New Mexico releases DDE, DDT, and mercury.

Related Local & National Organizations

Santa Fe Forest Coalition Logo

Santa Fe Forest Coalition

A citizen coalition united in calling for a comprehensive environmental impact study prior to any tree cutting and burning on forested public lands above Santa Fe.

Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics logo

Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics

Think the Forest Service is serving the interests of forests and making ethical, rather than political decisions?

Think again.  

The Forest Advocate Logo

The Forest Advocate

The Forest Advocate publishes news and resources for the protection of the Santa Fe National Forest and all southwestern forests.

Video:  All the crucial current research, by Chad Hanson

A presentation given by UPHE President Dr. Brian Moench and Dr. Chad Hanson of the John Muir Project, on why citizens should demand this program of chain saw, bonfire, and pesticide forest management be overturned.

bottom of page