Thinning Our Forests: A Tool for Fire Management, Says Letter to the Editor

Welcome to our letters to the editor/opinion section. To submit yours for consideration, please send to mskymkemp@gmail.com. Please consider including an image to be used–either a photograph of you or something applicable to the letter. However, an image is not necessary for publication. Remember opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of Redheaded Blackbelt.

Editor –

I am writing today about the “Unleashing the Trex” article by Malcolm Terence in the North Coast Journal of 11/3/2016. Firstly I’d like to congratulate NCJ for covering an important topic and event, and Mr. Terence for a job well done. I have been involved in wildland fire management (including suppression, prescribed fire, and fire hazard reduction) and forest health enhancement for 35 years, including participating in the 2015 Klamath TREX where Malcolm and I met. In a previous life I was a journalism major in my first two years of college. From these two perspectives, I have to say I’ve been very disappointed in the journalistic coverage I’ve seen of wildland fire over the years. Malcolm’s articles that I’ve seen are a stark contrast to that observation. He “gets it” unlike most others and does a great job of conveying the issues and relating the stories of the people involved. However, I am compelled to comment on one aspect of this article.

In discussing Malcolm North’s opinions on forest thinning’s role in managing fuels, Mr. Terence states, “Thinning… does not reduce surface fuels, citing many studies showing it is either a wash or makes conditions worse.”This is true of some forms of thinning. Forgive the cliche, but like most topics in forestry the devil is most certainly in the details. I am familiar with some of the studies referenced. To my knowledge, these thinning projects focused on opening up the overstory canopy to achieve space between tree crowns. Many if not most did not treat the surface or ladder fuels, nor treat the slash (leftover woody debris) resulting from removal of the “dominant” and “codominant” overstory trees. Forest thinningWhen I learned of these projects I was dismayed and thought “that will just make things worse;”I felt perversely vindicated when subsequent studies agreed.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I manage a small forestry crew in southern Humboldt. We have thinned over 1000 acres there since 1985, including partnering with the local fire safe councils and restoration oriented non-profits to create over 20 miles of strategically located “shaded fuel breaks” on major roads and ridges. But the prescriptions we utilize are very different from that described above. Mr. North is quoted, “…the most important is surface fuels, with ladder fuels a close second.” We always thoroughly address the surface fuels and generally do more to treat the ladder fuels (largely by targeting the “intermediate” trees in the canopy hierarchy), than any other projects I’ve seen. Forest thinningWe reduce the overall volume of fuels and modify their structure (by focusing on the flashier, kindling size) and arrangement by raising the base of the remaining canopy to achieve major reductions in ladder fuels. These strategies have won approval by a number of fire and forestry professionals who have seen the end result.

I would be surprised if either Mr. North or Mr. Terence would disapprove of these treatments if they saw them. My point is that some forms of thinning are not only important to include in the toolbox to achieve sustainable forestry and fire management, but should be promoted rather than dismissed. This includes combining thinning with prescribed fire. My phone # is 707-926-5351; my mailing address is PO Box 1131, Redway 95560, and my email is sparky@asis.com. I would be happy to speak with anyone on these or related issues. Thank you for the opportunity to express my views.

Dave Kahan

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3 comments

  • I used to live in Paradise. Residents would say it was a matter of when not if they would have a big fire. They had one. My parents had to evacuate. Years of built up pine needles, fallen trees, was a great fuel. Fortunately the fire missed their place.

  • “Sustainable forestry” is in effect a misnomer. They only sustain tree farms, not ecosystems and even those won’t last long on the scale of the natural world.

  • Dave’s comments deserve to be taken to heart . He knows whereof he speaks, after many years working on the ground in this field of endeavor. Our small 40 acre parcel was only a small portion of the total acreage he and his crews have improved over the years. Every job needs to be dealt with on a site-specific basis, and there is no substitute for experience. Dave has it.

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