Private timber plantations burn more severely than adjacent public forests

Private timber plantations burn more severely than adjacent public forests

Conservation Northwest / Jul 25, 2018 / Protecting Wildlands, Wildfire

A new study concludes that young plantation forests managed by industrial owners experienced higher severity fire than did nearby public forests.

By GEORGE Wooten, Conservation Associate, Okanogan Forest Field Staff

That is the conclusion of post-fire research on the 2013 Douglas Complex Fires in Oregon that burned over 48,000 acres, of which about half is on private land.

Indiscriminate logging won’t stop wildfires or benefit wildlife. But prescribed burns (shown here), selective thinning, and management of forests for ecological resilience benefits forests, people and wildlife. Photo: CNW archives

The study by Zald and Dunn supports post-fire studies in Montana by Stone and others. Their evaluation of fire severity after the 2003 Cooney Ridge Fire in Montana found similar results, although unlike Zald and Dunn that study did not consider the effects of climate and weather.

Researchers Harold Zald and Christopher Dunn stated, “Our findings suggest intensive plantation forestry characterized by young forests and spatially homogenized fuels, rather than pre‐fire biomass, were significant drivers of wildfire severity. This has implications for perceptions of wildfire risk, shared fire management responsibilities, and developing fire resilience for multiple objectives in multi‐owner landscapes.”

These findings are similar to what we observed in 2015, when fires burned across multiple ownerships in Eastern Washington. Findings like this make it clear that we can’t merely log our way out of our “fire problem”. Heavily logged industrial timber lands, shrub-steppe grasslands, thick second growth national forests and primeval wilderness areas can all burn under the right conditions.

A natural mosaic of burned and unburned timber in the North Star Fire area. The North Star Fire burned in the vicinity of several of our recent forest restoration projects. Photo: Jay Kehne

With the release this year of the 20-Year Forest Health Strategic Plan for Eastern Washington by Washington Department of Natural Resources, we now have policy guided by sound science for restoring ecological resilience across administrative boundaries, and perhaps addressing conditions to contribute to uncharacteristic fire behavior and spread.

We expect to have more information to share on DNR’s new Forest Health Strategic Plan in the weeks ahead!

More information

Zald, H.S.J, and Dunn, C.J. (2018), Severe fire weather and intensive forest management increase fire severity in a multi-ownership landscape, Ecological Applications.

Stone, C.; Hudak, A; Morgan, P. (2004). Forest harvest can increase subsequent forest fire severity. Proc. 2nd Intl. Symp. on Fire economics, Planning and Policy, A Global View; 19-22 April, 2004, Cordoba, Spain.

Learn more about our work for on fire, forests and communities at