Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dead trees arenít the problem

I would like to correct a common misconception voiced by Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson in a recent article on wildfires in the Aug. 24 issue (“More big fires in our future?”).

Contrary to popular belief, research has shown that dead trees, whether from pine beetles or other sources of mortality, generally have little influence on fire spread and severity except perhaps for the short period of time when red needles remain on the tree. Once the needles fall and small branches are broken off by winter storms, dead trees are far less flammable than live trees. Fine fuels are what carry a blaze, not big tree trunks—which is why tree boles remain after even the most intense blazes. In fact, a patch of dead trees is one of the best “fire breaks” you have in a forest due to the absence of fine flammable fuels.

On the other hand, live green trees, due to the presence of fine fuels (needles and small twigs) on the tree, combined with flammable resins, are actually more likely to burn with intensity if conditions for fires are present. These conditions include severe drought, low humidity and high winds.

George Wuerthner

Helena, Mt.

Ecologist and author of “Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy”

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