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Beetles and Fire

This would be very interesting if it's true (I haven't had a chance to look at the actual study yet), since it runs so much against the conventional wisdom:

Study: Beetles may reduce wildfire risk

The infestation of tree-killing bugs sweeping through millions of acres of forests in the West might help prevent wildfires rather than fuel them as feared, according to a new study.

The outbreak of beetles that burrow under the bark, eventually killing the tree, might reduce wildfire risk by naturally thinning forests, according to the report released Tuesday by researchers from Colorado State University, the University of Colorado and the University of Idaho.

But I really hope the AP's contrarian viewpoint is taken out of context, because it's so ridiculous:

Wayne Shepperd is a silviculturist, an expert in the care and development of forests, with the Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Research Station in Fort Collins. He said he disagrees with the report's thrust, calling it "selective science."

"This tends to support the no-management alternative," he said. "I would submit there are valid situations where well-planned management can maintain the forests how we want."

Not having read the actual study yet, I can't vouch for the policy implications that the authors claim. But no responsible interpretation of the report's conclusions would hold that it supports a blanket hands-off policy. Indeed, I've yet to meet anyone knowledgeable about fire who would disagree with Shepperd's last sentence. The question that this study speaks to is when, how, and for what purpose we implement "well-planned management."

It is true that revising our view of the effects of beetle infestations would remove a major argument in the arsenal of the extreme hands-on management faction that promotes large-scale logging in the name of fire safety. Perhaps that's the real issue -- those with a commitment to logging find it in their interest to create a false dichotomy between hands-on and hands-off management, obscuring the fact that there is a great range (qualitatively and quantitatively) of hands-on policies.


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