A Utah lawmaker is blaming the United States Forestry Service (USFS) and environmentalists for the scope of a fire that destroyed 13 homes and forced 1,500 people to evacuate, according to the Associated Press.
Republican Rep. Mike Noel of Utah blasted USFS and conservationist policies that prevented logging and proper forest management in the burned area. Trees killed by bark beetles and overgrowth in the forest made the fire more intense and harder to control than it otherwise would have been.
“When we turn the Forest Service over to the bird and bunny lovers and the tree huggers and the rock lickers, we’ve turned our history over,” Noel said according to the Associated Press. “We are going to lose our wildlife and we are going to lose our scenery, the very thing you people wanted to try to protect. It’s just plain stupidity.”
John Muir Project co-founder Chad Hanson said Noel’s allegation that trees killed by bark beetles burn faster is false, the Associated Press reported.
“That’s just logging industry propaganda,” Hanson said. “This is a direct outgrowth of the rhetoric of fear and hate coming out of the Trump administration. It has emboldened some very anti-environmental voices.”
A 2011 USFS study supports Noel’s assertion, finding that the red needles of a tree killed by mountain pine beetles ignite three times faster than a healthy tree’s needles.
The USFS also reviewed and compiled studies on the effects of beetle-killed trees on fires.
A 2014 study found fire spread 2.7 times faster in the crowns of trees killed by beetles within the past one to five years, the agency review said.
Dead trees eventually lose their needles and thin the forest’s canopy as well as add “surface fuel” to the forest floor, the review says.
“Both of these factors could act in concert to increase drying and the total amount of fine dead fuels on the surface, potentially increasing surface fire behavior compared to pre-attack conditions,” the review says.
Hanson defended the presence of dead trees left in forests in a 2010 report.
“Due in large part to the combined effects of fire suppression and post-fire logging, large snags (dead trees) are currently in severe deficit,” Hanson’s report states. “There are far too few large dead trees to maintain ecologically healthy forests.”
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