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for people who care about the West

Burning questions


I feel that Jane Braxton Little told a very incomplete story of how fire danger relates to beetle-killed trees (“Forest fatalities,” HCN, 8/8/16). Granted, after the needles have fallen off beetle-killed trees, they are less susceptible to forest fires than live trees, but the process of needles falling off takes about four years. Then, about 20 years later, when dead branches and tops start falling out, the forest enters another very flammable period. So, yes, there is a period following beetle epidemics when forests are less flammable, but on either side of it there is a period of higher fire danger. Braxton Little accurately reported what a few scientists have to say about flammability of beetle-killed trees, while ignoring the work of many others on this subject. I looked up what the Rocky Mountain Research Station of the U.S. Forest Service has to say: Dead needles have 10 times less moisture than green ones, ignite four times faster, and increase the risk of spotting ahead of the fire. There is a tendency among environmentalists to embrace the science that supports a “no harvest, no management” alternative. This seems to be that.                                           

John Marshall
Wenatchee, Washington