From: Center for Biological Diversity
Published October 2, 2013 06:12 AM

Are Sierra Nevada forest fires getting more severe?

A new scientific study finds that fire severity is not increasing in the forests of California's Sierra Nevada. The findings are contrary to claims by those who have tried to use recent fires in the region to justify more logging in the state's forests.


The study, by Dr. Chad Hanson of the John Muir Project, and Dr. Dennis Odion of the Earth Research Institute at University of California, Santa Barbara, was published in the International Journal of Wildland Fire. It found no trend of increasing fire severity in the Sierra Nevada management region in California over the past three decades. In fact, the study found that between 1984 and 2010, the amount of high-severity fire in the Sierra was lower than its natural level, before modern fire suppression.

"The scientific data is telling us that we need not fear fire in our forests. Fire is doing important and beneficial ecological work, and we need more of it, including large, intense fires," said Hanson.

The publication comes as the U.S. Forest Service begins rewriting management plans for the Inyo, Sequoia and Sierra national forests; it runs counter to the longstanding claim that Sierra fires are becoming too severe. The study is the first to include all of the available fire data for the Sierra Nevada, and recommends shifting Sierra fire management away from a focus on reducing extent or severity of fire in wildlands, and to instead focus on protecting human communities from fire.

"For years now, claims about excessive high-severity fire have been used to try to justify unnecessary logging in California," said Justin Augustine with the Center for Biological Diversity. "This new study is part of a growing body of scientific literature showing that what we actually need, ecologically speaking, is more fire on the landscape as well as an increased emphasis on making homes and buildings more fire safe."

Forest fire in Sierra Nevada mountains via Shutterstock.

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