Investigative Unit

Scientists Spar Over Whether Burned Trees Fuel or Calm Future Wildfires

The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit examines new research that challenges how the U.S. Forest Service has been fighting wildfires over the past 100 years.

NBC Universal, Inc.

There remains a strong consensus among scientists that climate change is driving the very type of hot and dry conditions that continue to ignite wildfires across California.  There is a raging debate, however, over what may be fanning the flames of wildfires, allowing them to burn hotter and faster each year.

At issue is what’s known as post-fire logging, the practice of removing dead and burned trees in the wake of a fire.  Supporters see the burned logs as eventual fuel for future fires and believe selling off those trees to lumber companies is a necessary tool to reduce high severity fires in the future.  Opponents, however, argue the dead trees should be left in the forest, where they can absorb moisture from the soil and eventually become akin to natural sponges that can work to actually slow down fires. On Monday, the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit continued its series of reports on the issue by highlighting new research that casts doubt on the effectiveness of post-fire logging. The study, authored by forest and fire ecologist Dr. Chad Hanson, found areas previously logged were three times as likely to burn at higher intensities during last year's Creek Fire, about 80 miles south of Yosemite National Park.

The U.S. Forest Service and top scientists across the country remain at odds over post-fire logging and whether it fuels or calms wildfires.

Hanson, who opposes post-fire logging, joined Dr. Brandon Collins, a UC Berkeley forest science professor who supports post-fire logging, on Tuesday to debate the issue live on NBC Bay Area Tonight at 7pm, moderated by NBC Bay Area’s Raj Mathai and Bigad Shaban.

Watch Our Entire Investigative Series

Contact The Investigative Unit

submit tips | 1-888-996-TIPS | e-mail Bigad

Contact Us