Wildfires result in loss of forests reserved by Northwest Forest Plan

November 7, 2008

Although the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) significantly reduced cutting of old-growth forests on federal land, forests in the driest regions are now at greater risk of being lost to wildfire than to logging. A team of federal and university scientists recently completed a study and analysis of large-diameter forests and discovered that elevated fire levels in the Pacific Northwest outweighed harvest reductions in the loss of older forests.

"Fire is a more important factor of loss to old-growth than harvesting between 1993 and 2002," says Tom Spies, a research ecologist and co-author on a study on the dynamics of older forests. The study, which was published in the journal, Ecosystems, concludes that although the NWFP helped stabilize the number of large-diameter forests in the Pacific Northwest, fire was the main reason for loss of these forests.

The study, The Relative Impact of Harvest and Fire Upon Landscape-Level Dynamics of Older Forests: Lessons From the Northwest Forest Plan, examines western Oregon and Washington and parts of the range of the northern spotted owl. The team used a 30-year satellite record to identify trends in the loss of large-diameter trees—on private and public land—to harvest and fire. They hope their findings may assist managers and
policymakers who are trying to conserve older forests and the species that depend on them.

Spies, who is with the Forest Service's Pacific Northwest (PNW) Research Station, says the findings show that among other things, harvesting of older forests on private lands did not increase as some expected. "The protection of old-growth on federal land didn't result in increased rates of harvest of older forest on non-federal land," he explains. "Some had thought that harvesting of older forests might increase on private lands in response to reduction in harvest on federal lands. Even if the [NWFP] had been implemented as intended, a considerable amount of old growth would have been protected, even though some would have been lost to harvest."

Other conclusions listed in the paper are:

-- Other studies indicate that warmer springs and summers and earlier snowmelt contribute to the dry conditions that produces more fires in the West. These factors may have contributed to the fires that burned up the old forests during the last decade.

-- The Government Accounting Office says that money appropriated for fuel treatments (1999 to 2003) has instead been used to fight fires.

-- Comprehensive landscape-level plans will be needed to reduce risk of loss of older forests to fire.

-- Federal managers should consider increasing fire prevention and suppression treatments in dry regions as climate change may lead to more fire.

Source: USDA Forest Service

Explore further: NASA image: Pacific Northwest wildfires severe in intensity

Related Stories

NASA image: Pacific Northwest wildfires severe in intensity

August 26, 2015

The Pacific Northwest is abundantly dotted with wildfires in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. There are over 27 fires listed in the Inciweb database for the state of Washington. The largest active fire listed is the ...

Series of wildfires in Northern California continue blazing

August 5, 2015

California has been hit hard the past few weeks with storms. Storms bring lightning and lightning strikes cause wildfires. Currently there are at least five fire complexes in the area including River, Fork, South, Route and ...

Obama administration warns 2015 wildfires could be costly

June 9, 2015

Despite a wet spring, the Obama administration warned Tuesday that this summer's wildfires could drain the federal firefighting budget and force government agencies to transfer money from programs meant to reduce long-term ...

Recommended for you

New study sheds light on end of Snowball Earth period

August 24, 2015

The second ice age during the Cryogenian period was not followed by the sudden and chaotic melting-back of the ice as previously thought, but ended with regular advances and retreats of the ice, according to research published ...

Earth's mineralogy unique in the cosmos

August 26, 2015

New research from a team led by Carnegie's Robert Hazen predicts that Earth has more than 1,500 undiscovered minerals and that the exact mineral diversity of our planet is unique and could not be duplicated anywhere in the ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

GrayMouser
5 / 5 (1) Nov 07, 2008
"Comprehensive landscape-level plans will be needed to reduce risk of loss of older forests to fire."

Plans? For forest fires? What are these people smoking???
Velanarris
not rated yet Nov 14, 2008
Whatever happened to responsible logging?

That would solve your forest fire issue right there.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.