[Read the opposing view to this opinion piece, “Wildfire: Dead Trees Vital to Forests,” by ecologist George Wuerthner.]
– by John Buckley, Executive Director, Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center
Over 13 years as a firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service, I worked primarily on hotshot fire crews. During those years I fought a number of the largest wildfires ever documented in California as well as many other wildfires elsewhere across the West.
For years I taught wildland fire behavior classes, helped ignite and manage prescribed burn projects, and spent entire summer/fall seasons (between wildfires) doing post-fire restoration work in recently burned areas.
From that experience, I can emphasize that fuel loading, fuel arrangement, continuity of fuel, and fuel moisture combine with fire weather, topography, time of day, and other factors to determine fire intensity. Put simply, the more dry fuel that is packed on moderate to steep hillsides on a hot summer afternoon when there are up-slope or up-canyon winds, the higher the likelihood that a wildfire will make major runs that kill a large percentage of trees that might survive a lower intensity fire.
Strategically planned biomass removal projects can reduce that build-up of excessive fuel.