Clear-Cutting: Smoke and Climate Change

Almost everyone accepts forest clear-cutting as a given, while the economic damage from smoke alone exceeds the forestry income and it is a root cause of climate change. Let’s see how it is all connected.

Why Are More Summers Smoky?

The perfect storm has arrived. The entire forested landscape is no longer fireproof. Clear-cutting has created dense stands of mono-aged young trees that burn hot. A fire in an old growth forest dances around ancient trees on the forest floor. A fire in clear-cut regrowth is catastrophically hot and burns everything.

How is the growing season in Southern Oregon related to increased smoke? They share the same cause: deforestation. Deforestation is the root cause of climate change.[1] The Rogue Valley’s growing season has expanded by two months in just the last 10 years. When I founded Restoration Seeds in 2008, the frost-free growing season was June 1 to October 1. Now we have a month more on either end: May 1 to November 1.

Industrial forestry and agriculture is the main cause of global warming; not greenhouse gases as we are told. Clear-cutting and farming create giant radiating hot spots 10–15˚F (5.6–8.4˚C)  warmer that are raising global temperatures and causing drought. Old-growth forests and prairies once moderated the climate and created rain-creating pollen.

The West Coast landscape looks forested from a distance, but to a trained eye, it’s not a mature forest, it is a giant tree plantation. Cities through their timber industry surrogates have replaced wild ecosystems with tree farms. It seems that, as long as the cities and suburbs get their cardboard, toilet paper and lumber, they don’t care what happens to the forest ecosystems.

Much of the country just reads about the fires they are indirectly causing through their wood products consumption practices without any mindfulness toward less consumption or seeking sustainably harvested products. The media also does not connect dots between forest loss and climate change, therefore, people do not see the connection.

How Do we Stop The Fires and Restore the Climate?

We can’t. Our greed and overpopulation has cooked our own goose. The only solution to reduce the fires to normal levels is to end clear-cutting and wait 200 years to allow the forest to become fireproof again. We continue to do things we should not and tamper with systems we do not understand.

Cut no more than a third of only the youngest trees. Yes, youngest only. Leave the oldest trees for perpetuity, as in forever. Regenerating old-growth forests over centuries will: Shade the ground to reduce heat radiation. Retain moisture to rebuild soil life. Create pollen to bring back normal rain levels. Regenerate the permanent self-seeding seed bank. Maintain forest layer diversity to bring back native plant and animal species. Be fireproof.

Thinning is not the answer. Almost no amount of equipment or labor can stop the fires because the entire landscape is now a tinderbox. It is prohibitively expensive to thin stands except around high-value urban interfaces. Stop salvaging trees after fires. There is more life in a standing dead tree than a living one.

Bring the beavers back. Beavers have been removed from natural landscapes by the millions. Beaver dams retain moisture, create biodiversity and create new springs to regenerate the forest and cool the climate.

Deforestation is beginning in stressed arid climate areas such as between the Rogue Valley and Eugene, Oregon. Some hillsides are starting to not reforest after being hit by clear-cuts too many times.

Landscape exhaustion leads to deforestation. This occurs when the soil biota and seed bank are exhausted by repeated clear-cuts. Timber companies even spray herbicides on new clear-cuts to keep the native wild species from re-growing. The landscape germinates what seeds it has left in the soil; they are not allowed to grow and the soil becomes barren. Once barren, the forest will no longer regenerate after a fire or clear-cut and the process of desertification begins. Forests dwindle to scrub-brush on down. Any grazing or agriculture on the fragile ecosystem slowly bushes it to desert. The missing forest reduces rainfall and the downward cycle reinforces itself.

One-Child Families is the Only Solution to Climate Change

Ultimately, one-child families are the only long-term solution to reduce the demand for forest and farm products. This would reduce human population to 1 billion in 100 years without calamity. No matter the cause, it’s a lost cause unless human population is reduced. I am afraid civilization has made us too short-sighted and selfish to enable the only real solution we have as a species. Almost no one in politics has a clue as to what is happening and what we need to do about it beyond stroking their own ego in the media.

Having large families was probably okay when I was born in the 1960s, but the population has doubled since then. It is imperative that people understand that climate change and extreme forest fires is a societal problem and no solution short of changing society will make a difference. As long as we continue to have large families, every problem imaginable will continue to happen. If there were only 1 billion of us, there would be plenty of resources to go around for ourselves and our fellow species.

When a Forest is a Forest

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This is what Earth really looks like. Can you find my 6’1″ tall son in the photo. Stout Grove, Crescent City, California.

One of the few places on Earth that still looks like Earth is the old-growth redwoods. If you have not been, go on a pilgrimage to see one of the last remaining sacred sites not yet destroyed by civilization.

A real forest has at least four or five vegetation layers. Look for ground cover, shrubs, understory trees, canopy of old-growth fire-proof trees and unique sounds of wildlife. The topsoil is a spongy, loamy, moist mycelium network up to 10′ thick; yes, feet. When walking into an old-growth forest, the temperature drops 10˚F, the oxygen and humidity rise 10 percent. The moment an ancient, lush and fecund forest is entered, it becomes obvious what is causing climate change and global warming: true forests are gone.

We should never have to “enter” a natural ecosystem. Until Columbus invaded the Americas, wild landscapes were ubiquitous. We have environmental amnesia. We have forgotten the wild. Humans live too short a time to see the destruction civilization causes and know what the earth really looks like.

Fire is natural, but current tree-plantation forests burn catastrophically hot. Cool fires dancing around old growth trees should be in the landscape every 4 or 6 years.

Combined Stakeholder Costs Harmed by Fires Caused by Clear-Cutting far Exceed Timber Industry Profits

All stakeholders harmed by clear-cutting’s side affects must confront the timber industry, politicians and the U.S. Department of Interior together.

Stakeholders harmed by short-sighted forestry practices include: real estate, tourism, hospitality and generally the chamber of commerce. Also harmed are the school districts, parents, children, and of course other species.

In my city of Ashland, Oregon, the one theater company loses as much money in one or two days, when the theater is closed from fire smoke, as the local timber industry profits in a year. The loss in the real estate industry from a severe summer smoke season is significant, as buyers leave the region. Every business on main street suffers as tourists and residence walk around for months with masks on. Some of the worst air quality in the world is found in the American west during the summer smoke season.

If all stakeholders account for their financial and health costs caused by summer fires and climate-change, it will be less expensive to leave the forests standing or replace clear-cuts with selective young-tree cuts. Because the board feet would have to come from wider selected-cut area vs. focused clear-cuts, the timber industry can continue in a sustainable manner.

There are far more jobs threatened by the fires caused by clear-cutting than there are in the timber industry. Even in timber towns in BC Canada, no more than 25 percent jobs are directly or indirectly dependent on the timber industry.

The Only Solution is to End Clear-Cutting

In Oregon alone, the timber industry proposes spending four billion dollars more on fire suppression and thinning in order to preserve clear-cutting.[3] Two problems: First, it will cost $4 billion Oregon does not have. Second, it will not solve the problem because it does not stop clear-cutting.

As long as the entire west coast U.S. is covered by mono-age, densely planted, clear-cuts and not by bio-diverse old-growth forests, catastrophic forest fires and climate change will continue.

One More Thing

Don’t just become an activist, become an activist politician who can make real change. One has 1,000x more power and influence as a county commissioner or congressman vs. writing a letter to one. If holding office is not an option, join a group to support a friend who can. Also, volunteer with a local environmental nonprofit. Lastly, register for the Green Party[2] and start to make a difference locally.

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Chuck Burr is author of Culturequake: The Restoration Revolution.

Editor, Beth Brown.


Featured Image: Travel Japan Blog.

[1] Chuck Burr. Culturequake, Climate Change: Deforestation is the Cause.

[2] Green Party US.

[3] Oregon Public Broadcasting. Oregon Governor’s Council Projects Big Bill To Manage Wildfire. September 26, 2019.