Crisis and the Timber Industry

By
Thursday, October 5th, 2017

“Never let a good crisis go to waste.” This is the mantra of the Timber Industry in fire season. Although this summer’s fires are just about out, the Timber industry and its friends in Congress are already pushing forward a radical agenda to wipe away federal environmental laws and drastically increase the cut.

Let’s take a closer look at the Timber Industry spin machine works to exploit forest fires.

First, create a crisis.

It is like clockwork—every year, there will be a fire in the West. Regardless of the fire, the Timber Industry PR team is in quick response, filling local op-ed pages with hyperbolic headlines and news stories with breathless quotes. Employing highly charged language, the Timber Industry will describe how a fire “ravaged,” “destroyed,” and “decimated” the forest, leaving a dead and devoid “moonscape” behind. No matter what, a fire will be called “catastrophic.” You can almost set your watch to it.

But it works.

The American public is deeply afraid of forest fires. This fear is justifiable. Homes burn down and lives are lost. Fires are tough to live with, as evidenced by the massively bad smoke conditions this year—even coastal Humboldt County was not spared.

But fire, including high-severity fire, is a natural forest disturbance. In its wake, a high-severity fire doesn’t leave ruin, but new birth. Forest fires—even some of the “mega” fires—are not abnormal. Charcoal records and early recorded accounts demonstrate that large and hot fires predated European colonization.

(Don’t forget that the Timber Industry can supply the “crisis,” too. 84% of forest fires are started by humans, such as the Minerva fire that forced the evacuation of Quincy, CA, started by an employee of Sierra Pacific Industries, or the Moonlight fire, caused by Sierra Pacific Industries’ negligent hiring and supervision of a logging contractor, or the most recent Helena Fire that burned the town of Junction City.)

Second, blame the other guys.

After over sensationalizing the fire, the Timber Industry looks to point blame at their mortal foes: environmental groups and endangered species. They claim that groups like EPIC put too many handcuffs on the timber industry from logging. In this world view, all forests are just fuels. As one catchy (but misinformed) slogan puts it, “Log it, graze it, or watch it burn.” In truth, the Timber Industry is to blame for much of the current condition.

Many forests are more dense than “reference conditions,” points in the past against which we can measure. But that’s largely because natural forest stands have been clear-cut and replaced by tree plantations. These tree plantations are the ones most likely to burn the hottest, as they are dense and have a uniform crown (instead of a staggered crown more typical of a native forest.)

The Timber Industry also promotes a culture of fire suppression. The Timber Industry sees forests as money, and fires as putting their money at risk. For that reason, there is no greater champion of the military fire industrial complex than the timber industry.