A Healthy Forest Can Help Prevent Wildfire

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California residents are all too familiar with extreme wildfires. Lately, anyone listening to national news will recognize among the headlines, stories of extreme wildfire threatening our wildland urban interface. Our forests cover more than 30% of the earth’s land according to the United Nations, Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO). Wildlife habitat and communities bordering forest land depend heavily on a healthy forest. Areas of high tree density, combined with drought, contribute to increasing danger of wildfires threatening these communities.

There are many ways to improve forest health and reducing hazardous fuels is one way to accomplish this goal. The U.S. Forest Service strives to reduce hazardous fuels by employing methods like thinning of vegetation and conducting controlled burns. A forest allowed to grow unchecked becomes susceptible to wildfires, which cost the U.S. government billions to fight each year and destroys both private and public property.

Brad Seaberg, Timber Sale Contracting Officer for the Tahoe National Forest, has been involved with timber for more than four decades. Brad says, “The benefits of harvesting timber extend way beyond a healthy forest and reducing hazardous fuels. Timber harvesting also supports jobs and businesses in the local community.” Mr. Seaberg oversees the administration of the Tahoe National Forest timber program. Each U.S. Forest Service Ranger District has a timber sale administrator who is present on the timber sale to monitor logging operations and insure contract compliance.

The term ‘logging’ usually refers to felling trees, skidding logs and hauling logs to a sawmill. Logs are subsequently processed into construction materials, such as flooring, furniture, homes, decking and fencing. Apart from these products, timber also aids in the manufacture of buildings, cars and airplanes. In the timber business; nothing goes to waste and even the bark is used for landscaping or to provide fuel for power plants.



In the past, more items were made from wood, but today wood has become scarce and many items that used to be made of wood are now manufactured from aluminum, vinyl or plastic. Mr. Seaberg explains, “It takes 30 to 50 years for a tree to grow to a commercial size that can be selectively harvested. The Tahoe National Forest has a diverse mix of trees including Ponderosa Pine, Sugar Pine, White Fir, Red Fir, Douglas Fir, and Incense-Cedar.” Trees are selectively harvested for thinning of the forest rather than just clear-cutting, as this preserves the forest for future generations.

Why does reducing hazardous fuels help improve forest health? With increased vegetation, there is competition for limited resources like water, sunlight and nutrients in the soil. In addition, with higher numbers of trees, they become weaker and subject to mortality from insect infestations, such as bark beetle and other diseases.

When thinning is performed, trees are harvested, hazardous fuels are reduced, and the remaining trees benefit because there is less competition for available water, sunlight and nutrients, three items which are essential for overall forest health.

The current management of forest fuels involves the use of two primary tools, thinning and prescribed fire treatments. These treatments mimic the benefits of a controlled fire, but in a proactive, rather than reactive, controlled and safe manner.

Mechanical treatments such as thinning and logging are used to give the forest a natural density and strengthens the forest’s resiliency to drought, climate change, insects, diseases and wildfire. These projects also increase wildlife habitat and overall watershed health, which keep the forest healthy.

Mr. Seaberg explains, “When forest land is properly managed, forests have both economic and ecological benefits. Regular thinning provides an improved environment for maximizing a site’s growth potential, which results in larger, healthier trees and more valuable timber.”