Montana: Fire suppression may be exaggerated and overrated

The major point to consider is that in the period 1930-1980 there were
almost no fires on the Flathead NF (including Glacier NP, Bob Marshall
Wilderness, etc.) but before and that period, there were extensive
burns. This almost perfectly matches up with climatic changes
resulting from shifts in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation in the
Pacific Ocean.

Early in the century the PDO created warmer and drier
conditions, in the middle part of this past century beginning in the
late 1930s, it created cooler and moister conditions, and then shifted
back in recent years to drier and warmer again. Was it coincidence
that the same period of cooler and moister weather the Flathead NF had
fewer fires due to fire suppression, and yet with even more
sophisticated fire fighting tools and knowledge, the more recent
decades fire fighting was ineffective at preventing large blazes? Or
perhaps did cool, moist conditions lead to fewer fires, and greater
seedling survival creating denser forests (which we incorrectly call
“unhealthy”)? And now with a shift in climatic patterns towards
drought, high summer temperatures, low humidity, etc., we are seeing
larger fires, not because of “unnatural” fuel build up but simply as a
consequence of more favorable conditions for fire ignition and spread?

I included the second chart showing fire in the 11 western states,
which basically mirrors the fires on the Flathead NF and has the PDO
super imposed over the fire acreage burned. This, of course, has
implications for policy since much of the logging in western Montana
as well as elsewhere is based upon the presumption that effective fire
suppression has led to “unnatural” build up of fuels. While fuels may
have increased, it may be to entirely or at least largely to natural
factors controlled by climate. And now with a climatic shift, natural
processes including beetles, and wildfire are thinning the forests. In
other words, natural ecosystem processes are functioning perfectly
normal given the past as well as current climatic conditions. Comments

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