In June and July the Brianhead fire in the Dixie National Forest burned more than 71,000 acres and racked up over $34 million in firefighting costs. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has authorized federal funds to cover 75% of firefighting costs; the rest will come from the State and Iron County.
During the crisis, representative Mike Noel (R-Kanab) delivered a scientifically inaccurate rant claiming that unregulated logging could have prevented the blaze: “When we turned the Forest Service over to the bird and bunny-lovers and the tree-huggers and the rock-lickers we turned our history over,” he griped.
The truth is, without careful management, salvage logging can cause more harm than the problems it is supposed to solve. From 1995-1997, federal law exempted “emergency” salvage timber sales from environmental regulation. Environmental groups strongly opposed the policy because mismanaged salvage logging not only damages watersheds, recreation and wildlife habitat, it prevents forest recovery and can prolong insect infestation by eliminating insectivores.
Research shows that selectively harvesting commercially viable large trees fails to reduce fire risk because fires spread through smaller trees and brush.
Noel’s name-calling and overly simplistic ideas about forestry are particularly unhelpful because to cope with climate change we need science-based forestry policies appropriate to hotter, drier conditions that increase the risk of wildfire in the West.