Forest Thinning and Forest Fires – Disagree

The thinning of forested ecosystems by anthropogenic means for both ecosystem “health” and public safety is not as essential as some may propose. Forest thinning is one of many essential tools for proper forest management. From an ecological standpoint forest thinning can achieve specific forest management goals. However, it is not right for every situation. From a human safety standpoint forest thinning is typically proposed to curb forest fires. However, this will not solve the problem of forest fires endangering life and property. Factors such as heat, wind speed and direction, how dry the forest, even tree type and amount of forest floor detritus all determine the severity and behavior of forest fires. There are other steps that humans can take to protect their health and their property that do not include forest thinning.

Forest thinning is one of many forest management techniques that can be used to manage a forest ecosystem. Other techniques include clear cuts, shelter cuts, doing nothing and others. The techniques used to manage a forest are dependent on the landowner(s) definition of a “healthy” forest.

Timber companies obviously provide the wood that we all crave, but also have to determine how to get the most profitability from their trees while keeping the forest “healthy” enough to produce more trees from the land. While achieving this goal timber companies also must, depending on what land they operate on, follow the proper federal and state regulations in order to minimize damage to other components of the ecosystem such as preventing siltation of trout habitat.

Non-industry stakeholders in forests often have a different definition of what a “healthy “ecosystem is. For many forest ecosystems are a provider of habitat for thousands of species and a complex system that should be preserved while still providing sufficient supplies of wood that the country needs. Forest thinning is one technique that can provide for this. For example if a land owner(s) want to promote a less shade tolerant species of tree that other species of wildlife depend on then some of the taller trees that dominate the forest canopy should be thinned from the forest to allow sunlight to reach the forest floor and promote these species. The thinned trees can either be harvested for profit or left in place for dead ground cover.

However, often times forest thinning is not beneficial depending on the goal the management of the forest. A prime example of this debate is the preservation of old growth forests. In order to manage an old growth forest one must apply a do-nothing strategy in order to keep them “healthy”. Therefore forest thinning is not the end all, be all solution to keeping forests “Healthy”.

Public safety is an obvious concern with regards to forest fires. Many people think that fewer trees equates to fewer fires with less intensity and less damage. Hence we achieve more property and lives saved.
This is not necessarily true. There are many variables in forest fires that effect their intensity and behavior.
Heat, wind speed and direction, how dry the forest, even tree type and amount of forest floor detritus.

The higher the ambient air temperature the more intense the fire will be. The higher the wind speed and variance in direction will propel flames further and change the behavior of the fire. The drier the forest obviously the easier it will burn. Coniferous trees burn more easily than hardwoods and lead more intense burning.

Forest floor detritus plays a major factor in forest fires and is not solved by thinning. Detritus burns easily, because it is dead and dry.
A large build up of this material is kindling for larger scale fires. Logging produces slash which adds to this detritus.

Instead of thinning the forest people can protect their properties by not building burnable structures and planting plant life close to their home. They can also make sure to keep their properties clean and free of detritus. Proper landscape design techniques are also keys to protecting their homes. Designing the yard/forest edge to be fire resistant is critical. These areas can serve as fire breaks. An example of this would be to place a swimming pool or pond in a portion of this edge.

The thinning of forests to preserve their “health” and insure the safety of the public is not as essential as some may think it is. It is one of many tools in forest management and it can play a significant role but it depends on who is managing the forest and for what specific management goals as to whether or not it should be used. It is clear that forest thinning is not the end all be all solution to maintaining forest “health”. Due to the many variables involved in forest fires that effect their intensity and behavior thinning is not a solution. These variables include heat, wind speed and direction, how dry the forest, even tree type and amount of forest floor detritus. With proper landscape planning and management, the risk to human health and property can be reduced.