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The Forest Service is proposing a major logging project for the Bozeman watershed to reduce the probably of a large fire.

The fundamental problem is that thinning the forest is more likely to increase the occurrence of high severity burns, not reduce it.

All large (high severity) fires are driven by weather-not fuel. Even the mile-wide Columbia River in Oregon could not stop the Eagle Creek fire from jumping across the entire waterway to spread into Washington. If a major river won’t stop a blaze, does anyone sincerely believe removing just some of the forest will halt a fire?

Large blazes occur under extreme fire weather conditions. These conditions include drought, low humidity, high temperatures, and, most importantly, high winds. If you have these conditions, you have a blaze that cannot be stopped (until the weather changes). If you don’t have these conditions, fires do not burn much.

For instance, in a 2017 letter to Congress, more than 250 scientists opined that logging and thinning were ineffective. To quote from their message: “Thinning is most often proposed to reduce fire risk and lower fire intensity…However, as the climate changes, most of our fires will occur during extreme fire-weather (high winds and temperatures, low humidity, low vegetation moisture). These fires, like the ones burning in the West this summer, will affect large landscapes, regardless of thinning, and, in some cases, burn hundreds or thousands of acres in just a few days.”

Logging the forest degrades forest ecosystems. Logging removes trees and snags which is important “habitat” for many wildlife species. Logging reduces carbon storage. Logging creates roads which are vectors for weeds. Roads also tend to increase human access that can disturb sensitive wildlife.

In other words, Bozeman will get all the negatives from thinning and almost no additional fire prevention.

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George Wuerthner