Wildfires result in loss of forests reserved by Northwest Forest Plan

Nov 07, 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: Implications for the fate of green fertilizers

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA image: Fires in Northern Washington State

Aug 12, 2014

The Pacific Northwest has been inundated with wildfires most stemming from lightning strikes during summer storms. Four of these wildfires can be seen in this natural-color Aqua satellite image collected ...

Pyrocumulonibus cloud rises up from Canadian wildfires

Aug 06, 2014

The Northern Territories in Canada is experiencing one of its worst fire seasons in history. As of this date, there have been 344 wildfires that have burned 2,830,907 hectares of land (close to 7 million ...

Recommended for you

Implications for the fate of green fertilizers

1 hour ago

The use of green fertilizers is a practice that has been around since humans first began growing food, but researchers are warning that modern techniques for the creation of these fertilizers could have implications ...

Ditching coal a massive step to climate goal: experts

2 hours ago

Phasing out coal as an electricity source by 2050 would bring the world 0.5 degrees Celsius closer to the UN's targeted cap for climate warming, an analysis said on the eve of Tuesday's UN climate summit.

Monitoring heavy metals using mussels

6 hours ago

A research team in Malaysia has concluded that caged mussels are useful for monitoring heavy metal contamination in coastal waters in the Strait of Johore. Initial results indicate more pollution in the eastern ...

Climate change report identifies 'the most vulnerable'

7 hours ago

Extreme weather events leave populations with not enough food both in the short- and the long-term. A new report by the Environmental Change Institute (ECI) at the School of Geography and the Environment ...

User comments : 2

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.