[MCN] Fwd: Good editorial in Missouilan by Dick Hutto on wildfire ecology ( a good one to pass on)

John Meyer John at cottonwoodlaw.org
Thu Aug 17 11:03:53 EDT 2017

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: George Wuerthner <gwuerthner at gmail.com>
Date: Thu, Aug 17, 2017 at 8:56 AM
Subject: Good editorial in Missouilan by Dick Hutto on wildfire ecology

Fires necessary to sustain ecological integrity


Some kind of “conservation forest” might be a reasonable idea for the Swan,
but as an ecologist, it was embarrassing to read Marc Racicot’s misinformed
view of why such a conservation forest managed by the Department of Natural
Resources and Conservation is needed in the Swan (guest column, Aug. 16
His comments reflect a lack of any kind of understanding about
disturbance-based ecological systems, and why such systems require (yes,
require) periodic severe disturbance to sustain their ecological integrity.

Forests grow, and fuels accumulate naturally (yes, naturally, not because
of mismanagement) before an inevitable fire restores burned forest
conditions that are then occupied over the ensuing century by most of the
plant and animal species with which we share this earth. Many organisms
(like the black-backed woodpecker and the fire morel) require the blackened
forest immediately following fire, while others (like mountain bluebird and
lazuli bunting) require shrub-forest conditions, and still others (like
orange-crowned warbler, snowshoe hare, and lynx) require young-forest
conditions that occur prior to mature-forest stages.

None of these species would exist without the gift of periodic severe fire,
so when Racicot writes, "we know, unequivocally, that when those landscapes
suffer the consequences of explosive and horrific fires, the damage and
destruction endured by people, animals, fish and wildlife are almost
impossible to describe and quantify,” he exposes his ecological ignorance.
He should have written something more informed and responsible, like, "we
know, unequivocally, that those landscapes will receive the inevitable
blessing of restorative fires, and if we have prepared ourselves to be
fire-safe, we can then enjoy and celebrate the transformation that will
serve to benefit the forest and recreationists in the years to come.”

Maybe Racicot should take the time to actually walk into the blackened
forests following this year’s Rice Ridge fire near Seeley Lake to
experience (for his first time, apparently) the magical forest conditions
created by that fire. I’m sure any forest biologist (or I) would be happy
to show him just how unique the plants and animals are in a severely burned
forest, and how (by being fire-safe) we can have wilderness, harvested
green-tree “conservation forests,” and burned forests in all stages of
succession following severe fire across the larger landscape.

Finally, Racicot is mistaken if he believes that “there’s something we can
do to minimize, and in many instances even eliminate… the wholesale
destruction of natural resources critically important to all of us.” Sorry,
Racicot, a large volume of fire research shows, unequivocally, that timber
harvest does little to minimize or stop the wind-driven fires during the
hot, dry years that typically burn most of our forest lands periodically.
Just walk through the old Plum Creek land that burned to a crisp during the
2007 Jocko Lakes fire near Seeley Lake to see for yourself how those fires
burned through even the most heavily harvested lands.

Even if we could mitigate or prevent severe fire, would really we want to
do that anywhere but in or immediately adjacent to our developed
communities? The only person who would say that wildfires cause the
“wholesale destruction of natural resources” is one who has absolutely no
ecological literacy. We need more informed leadership if we are to adopt
forest management practices and working forests that are truly

Richard Hutto is a professor emeritus of biology and wildlife biology with
the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of Montana.

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John Meyer
Executive Director & General Counsel
Cottonwood Environmental Law Center
P.O. Box 412 Bozeman, MT 59771
John at Cottonwoodlaw.org
(406) 546-0149

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