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Letter to the Editor: Community Protection Project- Don’t Be Fooled

The Community Protection- Central and West Slope Communities Project proposed by the Plumas National Forest is a fear-based, profit-driven, fossil fuel-burning proposal that furthers the mindset that got us here in the first place. Terms such as Forest Health, Resiliency, and Community Protection are used to mislead people because their meaning is elusive. In the popular misinformation furthered by Tompkins et al. in their oversimplification of forest and fire ecology: Forest Health means a forest without beetles or burned and dead trees, Resiliency means fireproofing the forest, and Community Protection means a short-term fix that deceives community members.

After 3 decades studying ecology, I have learned that the most important considerations regarding forest ecology and fire are: 1. Diversity is the foundation of sustainability and “resiliency”; 2. Forest fires that burn down towns are influenced primarily by weather and climate; and 3. Continuing to manage forests mechanically and at a large scale adds significantly to greenhouse gas accumulation and exacerbates climate change while decreasing a forest’s ability to store carbon and support biodiversity.

Small scale, less-invasive, local efforts are the most successful and respectful, as proven in Genesee Valley, which survived the Dixie Fire (Genesee Valley Wildfire Restoration Plan 2016). I have seen much of the area burned in the Dixie Fire, and some of the most manicured (i.e. treated) forest areas had nearly 100% tree mortality due to the effects from weather and excessive back-burning.

Studying in detail local weather and climate patterns would be a more effective strategy for managing fire and protecting communities. Coppoletta et al. (2016) conducted a fire study in the North Fork Feather River Canyon and stated that “fire behavior is largely driven by weather”. The Camp Fire started in the SW portion of their study area, burned through numerous highly “treated” forest areas, and then burned down the town of Paradise. A similar weather-driven fire (Bear Fire) that burned several communities occurred in the Middle Fork Feather River, which runs roughly parallel to the North Fork and experiences similar weather patterns. Jones et al. (2022) also stated that “wildfires are strongly influenced by climate and weather”. Understanding weather and climate patterns is exceptionally important, yet is largely ignored, while profit-driven exploitive approaches are prioritized.

The astute reader will realize that I used the same scientific references cited by Tompkins et al. to support a very different point of view. As a scientist that has been vetted by respected ecological journals for a couple decades, I understand that it is easy to publish findings that concur with popular ideas, while it is difficult to publish data that refutes those ideas, regardless of the quality of the data.

Tompkins et al. statement that “The thrust of the misinformation about forest health relies on the concept that….” Is complete misinformation. They also employ a typical fear-based approach: If we don’t cut large trees now, we will lose all the large trees in fires! This is reminiscent of more than a century ago when we argued that if we don’t suppress all forest fires, we will lose all of our forest! BTW, the current fire management policy is still nearly 100% fire suppression!

History shows that the only way we can make meaningful change is when it becomes absolutely necessary. Let’s hope that in the near future, change can be guided in a more positive direction, and my great grandkids’ grandkids can appreciate us for our respectful decisions and a thoughtful way of life.

David Arsenault
Ecologist
The Lost Sierra Project
Quincy, CA

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