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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  —

Protecting Homes Against Wildfire

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

A risk analyst revisits the assessment and acceptability of risk after losing his house to a US Forest Service intentional "backburn."

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.”

This story from the LA Times graphically documents the failure of fuel breaks in California to protect homes and lives from climate driven fires. Fuel breaks create a false sense of security and encourage development in fire-unsafe areas. See link below. The La Cueva fuel break is a local example. 

Clearing and burning forests over vast acreage to reduce "fuels" is also ineffective in reducing the risk of wildfire. The Forest Service spent more than $3 billion over a 20-year period across the West to reduce fuels on 7.3 million acres yet only 24,000 acres encountered a fire when "fuels" were lowest. That is, less than 1 percent of these treated areas experience a wildlife in any given year. Since fuels are reduced for only 10 to 15 years "most treatments have little influence on wildfire." 

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.

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.

A risk analyst revisits the assessment and acceptability of risk after losing his house to a US Forest Service intentional "backburn."

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

An excellent recently published primer, well documented with scientific sources

“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. . .

California's ecosystems are different than southeastern U.S., however, consider that Californians and our environment were subjected to an intensive 30 years of "prescribed" burning. The principles of ineffectiveness apply in the east as well, and there is no comprehensive research such as this one to evaluate the claims of the industry. Here is the USGS presentation. In addition to the lack of effectiveness in fire prevention this study found that even this native fire adapted plant community suffered from the prescribed burning regime.

1. It is accepted among experts that prescribed burns and previous wildfires do not stop catastrophic fires in times of global warming and drought when they are most likely to occur.

2. How much forest burning is required? The industry knows but does not discuss the fact with the public that prescribed burning theory requires burning the same site 2 to 3 times to achieve the state of reduced duff, leaves small diameter trees and lower story shrubs to suit their theories. When you realize that the lower story and other “fuel” will return to the same or greater levels within 9 years (USFS study) you will realize that the same area will have to burn repeatedly on an forever basis. Rhododendrons and laurel are exceptional tenacious and will grow back with twice the foliage when cut back to ground level.


3. The randomness of wildfire - Wildfire occurs randomly, at any given point 2-3% of the forest may be subjected to prescribed burning, chances are very low that an area will possibly be in a state in which it will reduce the effects of wildfire.


4. Prescribed burns can cause their own catastrophic fires - One recent example is the escaped prescribed burn in the Croatan National Forest in which the USFS planned to burn 1,500 acres, and instead created a catastrophic 21,000 acre 6 week wildfire:

Once A Forest Logo

“Our research shows that reducing fuels isn’t going to reduce severity much...Even if you reduce fuels, you are still going to have severe fires” because of extreme weather."

February 18, 2011

 "Prescribed burning . . . may do more harm than good."

"Thinning" increases overall evaporation in semi-arid ponderosa pine forests of the southwestern US.  An important article because the Forest Service claims that its extreme "thinning," aka clearcutting, somehow increases moisture in forests.  Not so, says science.   

Previously burned forests burn with higher severity.

June, 2016

"Ignorance and shameless economic opportunism will destroy our forest ecosystems if we are not careful."

Removal of dead trees does not reduce future fire severity, this study concludes.

Endangered Mexican spotted owls need closed canopy forests to breed and survive.  These forests are becoming increasingly rare with forest "management," suggesting that such forests warrant special protection, which may conflict with efforts to "restore more open conditions in ponderosa pine forests," aka burning and clearcutting.

Humans and Global Warming — Not "Overgrown" Forests — are the Cause of Forest Fires

"Days of abnormally high temperatures have contributed to the intensity of fires, by making vegetation drier and more likely to ignite. This has coincided with an increase in the number of fires started by humans, too. . .In California, almost 95 percent of fires are started by people"

The timber industry and the U.S. Forest Service aggressively market the idea that reducing fuels through logging/thinning programs will result in a significant decrease in acreage burned, firefighting costs and the number of high-severity fires.  However, it is climate/weather, not fuels, that drive all large wildfires.

Human-caused warming has increased the area burned by wildfire in the Western United States, according to the report, “particularly by drying forests and making them more susceptible to burning.”

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 . . .

These scientists found "little credible evidence," yet the Forest Service still uses this justification for igniting and clearing forests 17 years later. 

From the abstract: "It has been suggested that thinning trees and other fuel-reduction practices aimed at reducing the probability of high-severity forest fire are consistent with efforts to keep carbon (C) sequestered in terrestrial pools, and that such practices should therefore be rewarded rather than penalized in C-accounting schemes. By evaluating how fuel treatments, wildfire, and their interactions affect forest stocks across a wide range of spatial and temporal scales, we conclude that this is extremely unlikely. Our review reveals high losses associated with fuel treatment, only modest differences in the combustive losses associated with high-severity fire and the low-severity fire that fuel treatment is meant to encourage, and a low likelihood that treated forests will be exposed to fire. Although fuel-reduction treatments may be necessary to restore historical functionality to fire suppressed ecosystems, we found little credible evidence that such efforts have the added benefit of increasing terrestrial stocks."

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."  

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

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

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. 

Forest Service use of Toxic Herbicides to "Restore" Forests

A coalition of environmentalists is appealing a government plan that would use herbicides to kill weeds in the Santa Fe and Carson national forests.

One of many Forest Service guides to the regular planned use of toxic pesticides on a landscape scale.   ". . . Continuous aggressive management measures are needed . . . Herbicide spraying will reduce leafy spurge populations, but followup spot spraying should always be anticipated for a minimum of several years . . ."

The Fire Industrial Complex

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

Prescribed Burns Out of Control

"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."

Steven GoddardMarch 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"

Rapid City Journal, April 14, 2015

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. logo

Arizona Citizen activist website.  "The U.S. Forest Service has convinced some people that prescribed burns and managed wildfires are safe methods of maintaining forest health when they are actually two of the deadliest acts known to mankind."

Tree Hugger Santa Fe Logo

Tree Hugger Santa Fe

Tree Hugger Santa Fe is a group of people living in harmony with the forest in the unique, determined landscape of the desert highlands of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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