When Fire Suppression Backfires

Aug 5, 2021

Environmentalists protect a rare ecosystem that survives only in dead or decaying trees. Logging was prevented, mitigation plans halted, and dead pine stands led to devastating wildfire, causing irreparable damage to all ecosystems in the area.

BARK, an organization committed to defending and restoring Mt. Hood National Forest, halted a USFS mechanical thinning project in 2015. It was initially proposed in 2012 as a 2300-acre “timber sale” in a remote area of standing dead lodgepole pines with a growing understory of hemlock trees. Most of the pines were killed by an outbreak of mountain pine beetles. In a natural fire ecosystem, quick-burning dead trees would become compost for the growing hemlocks and large healthy trees with fire resistant bark. BARK forced the USFS to reduced the original scope to 1432 acres of salvage logging, leaving standing dead trees to study for their rich habitat, the second most bio-diverse habitat on the planet. In 2015, an additional 869 acres would be dropped from the USFS project. Pine ecosystems rely on fire to rejuvenate their populations and BARK acknowledged such in their final statement about the decision to halt the project.

“While BARK is grateful that many areas will be spared from logging, we believe it’s important to recognize and consider the ecological function that a forest fire would provide to this area. Because of the Forest Service’s direction to suppress fires in this area, these forests are unable to go through the natural cycles which evolutionarily shaped them.” As if it were a premonition, within five years, wildfire would destroy the entire area.

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Swan Score: F

Property Owners

Safety hazards for all life forms, loss of life and property

Fire Protection Association

Mitigation would have made fighting safer and more effective


Environmentalists half USFS fuel mitigation for rare biosystem

Insurance Industry

Insurance industry ultimately pays for environmentalist bug study

Government Entities

Increased wildfire suppression costs, reduced timber revenues

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