HTML _ Memo - Timber Harvesting and Forest Fires
22-Aug-2000; Ross W. Gorte; 3 p.

Abstract: This memorandum responds to the request for both quantitative and qualitative assessments of the assertion that the decline in timber harvesting from the national forests over the past 10 years is a significant factor contributing to the current severe fire season in the West. Table 1 and Figure 1, below, present 20 years of national forest timber harvest volumes and acres burned on Forest Service protected areas. (Because of several cooperative agreements, the Forest Service protects some non-federal lands, while other organizations protect some national forest lands. However, the total acres protected by the Forest Service roughly equals the National Forest System acres. Thus, the difference in lands seems likely to be insignificant.) Timber volume harvested has clearly declined in the 1990s, from a peak of 12.7 billion board feet in 1987 to 2.9 billion board feet in 1999, after relatively stable harvest levels (generally 9-12 billion board feet) from 1958-1990. Acres burned have been less stable than harvest volumes, varying from 44,622 acres burned in 1982 to 1,549,955 acres burned in 1988, but four of the worst fire seasons since 1920 (the only four with more than a million acres burned) have occurred within the past 15 years ? 1987, 1988, 1994, and 1996 ? and the 2000 fire season could be worse than any of these. However, as explained below, the acres burned in any particular year appear to be at most weakly related to the volume of timber harvested. [read report]

Topics: Forests, Public Lands, Risk & Reform

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