Representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) says the U.S. Forest Service may be putting people’s lives in danger as the result of the agency’s widely used fire-fighting practice known as ‘post-fire logging.’
Khanna, chair of the House Environment Subcommittee, said he will call for a hearing on the matter next year.
“We finally are going to have the forest management sitting right there, under oath — they’re going to hear from scientists who have deep concerns about commercial logging,” said Khanna.
Post-fire logging, which has been authorized by the Forest Service over the past century, allows lumber companies to buy and haul away burned and dead trees, at a discount, following forest fires. Supporters of the practice, including scientists at the federal government, believe removing those trees reduces potential fuel for future fires, thus, reducing the likelihood of higher severity wildfires in the future.
However, an increasing number of scientists contend that removing burned trees often creates bigger, hotter forest fires.
“If you’re making the wildfires worse because you’re taking down trees and you’re increasing the spread and you’re increasing the severity, then that is putting, by definition, more peoples’ lives at risk,” said Khanna during an exclusive interview with the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit.
“What I want to make sure is that commercial interests aren’t dictating our policy, that science is dictating our policy,” said Khanna. “My concern is that the forest management hasn’t taken into account the broad scientific opinion.”
Khanna said in an effort to reach a consensus on the best way to slow down California’s catastrophic fires, he will hold a hearing in Washington, D.C. next year, summoning top officials at the Forest Service and opposing scientists from across the country to testify before Congress.
“Even though it seems counterintuitive for a lot of people, removing both dead trees and live trees from the forest actually tends to make fires burn faster and hotter,” said Dr. Chad Hanson, founder of the John Muir Project. “That oftentimes occurs near towns, and can have tragic consequences.”
Hanson’s findings showed that dead, fallen trees absorb moisture from the soil. Instead of being fuel, he contends these trees serve as fire breaks, slowing down a wildfire.
Despite the new research, supporters of post-fire logging maintain the process is essential to reducing fuel on the forest floor.
“The only way to deal with it, in some cases, is to do post-fire logging in some areas to disrupt the continuity of fuel into the next fire,” said Dr. Brandon Collins, a forest science researcher who works with the U.S. Forest Service.