Environmentalists dispute claims that logging can prevent California wildfires

World Today

This is the time of year when hot dry Santa Ana winds fuel wildfires in California. They can be dangerous and destructive.

This year, officials have developed a radical plan to keep the flames at bay, but environmentalists say it will do more harm than good. 

CGTN’s Phil Lavelle reports from the town of Big Bear in Southern California.

There’s plenty of forest in California. It’s a metaphorical tinderbox, and as the state heads into the autumn fire season, there’s a dramatic proposal causing concern among some. For the first time in decades, the government is going to allow healthy pine trees to be logged, claiming they’re part of the problem. According to the US Forest Service, California has 129 million dead trees – partly because of the state of drought the state constantly seems to be in.

Officials say it’s a recipe for disaster. About a third of California is covered by forests, most of it, Government property. Last year saw the most destructive, the deadliest wildfire season in California history and nobody wants that record to be topped. But according to ecologist Chad Hanson of the John Muir Project, this isn’t the answer. 

“Actually logging increases fire intensity and spread,” he said. “In reality, when you take away trees, fires move through the forest faster because there are fewer trees to cut down on the wind speeds and so actually it increases the rate of spread. The other thing is that when forests are logged, you get more sunlight reaching the forest floor and that creates hotter, drier conditions.”

President Trump has publicly linked the need to remove trees as a key objective in the fight against fires, tweeting in August, “Must also tree clear to stop fire from spreading.”

But logging is a deeply divisive political and environmental issue here. California’s timber laws are among the most stringent in the country. Timber harvesting has been dropping sharply here since the nineties, but that trend may soon see a sharp reversal.

“All of the lumber’s coming out of the north west–Oregon, Washington, Canada,” explained Rick White, with Larrabure Framing in Los Angeles. “I think that opening up the forest for business is principally a good thing. However, I think it’s important they be good stewards of the land and be good stewards of the materials. I think that if we can get timber from California, certainly that would help the pricing. Can we get the quantity that we need that benefits the construction industry? I’m not sure of that.”

As many in the construction industry look to California forests for their timber, many in California will be looking at whether logging does lead to a safer environment, after all.