The logging industry's "solution" to forest fires will make them worse
The growing extent of clearcuts and plantations in BC is resulting in larger forest fires (BC Wildfire Service photo)
IN ADVOCATING FASTER CLEARCUT LOGGING to deal with out-of-control wildfires, the forest industry and its advocates ignore the fundamental reasons for the Okanagan region turning into a tinderbox. The industry’s prescription of “chainsaw medicine” to remedy the situation will only make matters worse.
Three key reasons that have turned the Okanagan into a tinderbox fueling the megafires of today are: fire suppression, the rate of clearcutting and global warming.
Decades of fire suppression and prohibition of indigenous, traditional “cold burns” have allowed dead fuel to accumulate.
The rate of clearcutting results in ever-increasing expanses of dry soil and woody debris and in vast areas of young plantations less than 25 years old. Scientists Meg Krawchuk and Steve Cumming tell us that fire ignition by lightning is more likely to occur in a clearcut than it would in the forest that the clearcut replaced.
Young plantations are highly flammable and contribute to the rate of spread of recent large fires. Together, clearcuts and young plantations are the driver of recent megafires made worse by global heating.
Scattered parks, a few protected areas, and remaining old-growth forests are not the problem. In fact, they are part of the solution, being relatively fire-resistant and storing large amounts of carbon when compared to the flammability of clearcuts and young plantations.
The forest industry would have us increase the rate of clearcutting under its fear-mongering mantra of “cut it down or let it burn.” This reasoning is bewildering because, if true, all BC’s magnificent forests would have burned millennia ago.
The forest industry uses every crisis—whether it be insect infestations, tree diseases, or wildfire—to advance its agenda of increasing the rate of clearcutting (profit) with no regard for the social, economic and environmental consequences of its self-serving actions.
Those consequences include, among many others: An increase in the frequency, magnitude and duration of major floods, severe droughts and mega-fires, contaminated drinking water, biodiversity loss, destruction of property, smoke-induced health issues, and death of domestic animals—all directly or indirectly related to clearcutting, and made worse by global heating.
But global heating itself is made worse by clearcutting. In fact, wildfires in BC have increased in size, frequency, duration, and intensity so dramatically that they, together with clearcut logging, now exceed fossil fuels as the province’s major source of climate-destabilizing carbon.
So industrial forestry is feeding a deadly cycle: clearcut logging worsens wildfire, which in turn exacerbates global heating, which intensifies wildfire. We need to break this cycle of destruction and death.
Climate change is the defining issue of our times. Within a societal context, our choice is between life and money. Within the context of BC forestry, the choice is between profit (driven by clearcutting) and community safety and health driven by a new paradigm of forest management based on ecology and conservation.
Taryn Skalbania is a farmer in the Okanagan valley. Severe wildfires forced Taryn to evacuate her farm in 2017, 2018 and 2021. She spent much of the 2021 fire season providing a safe haven for animals from neighbouring farms threatened by megafire. Many farm animals were not so fortunate and had to be shot. Taryn is a co-founder of the Peachland Watershed Protection Alliance with which she is presently the director of outreach.