The Timber Industry Lies

A study of logging shows that logging does not prevent wildfires.

The argument has always been that private, and more heavily logged, forests are less prone to wildfires.

An extensive study has shown this to be false:

As thousands of Oregon homes burned to rubble last month, the state’s politicians joined the timber industry in blaming worsening wildfires on the lack of logging.


In the decades since government restrictions reduced logging on federal lands, the timber industry has promoted the idea that private lands are less prone to wildfires, saying that forests thick with trees fuel bigger, more destructive blazes. But an analysis by OPB and ProPublica shows last month’s fires burned as intensely on private forests with large-scale logging operations as they did, on average, on federal lands that cut fewer trees.

In fact, private lands that were clear-cut in the past five years, with thousands of trees removed at once, burned slightly hotter than federal lands, on average. On public lands, areas that were logged within the past five years burned with the same intensity as those that hadn’t been cut, according to the analysis.

“The belief people have is that somehow or another we can thin our way to low-intensity fire that will be easy to suppress, easy to contain, easy to control. Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Jack Cohen, a retired U.S. Forest Service scientist who pioneered research on how homes catch fire.

The timber industry has sought to frame logging as the alternative to catastrophic wildfires through advertising, legislative lobbying and attempts to undermine research that has shown forests burn more severely under industrial management, according to documents obtained by OPB, The Oregonian/OregonLive and ProPublica.


“That kind of management clearly didn’t provide community protection,” said Dunn, who spent eight years as a wildland firefighter. He now studies fire behavior and risk for Oregon State University and the Forest Service.

In 2018, Dunn co-authored a study with Humboldt State University’s Harold Zald that found the 2013 Douglas Complex Fire in southern Oregon burned 30% more severely on private industrial timber plantations than on federal forestlands.

The way to protect forest from catastrophic wildfires is more fires, whether naturally occurring or prescribed burns, period, full stop. 

The movement for thinning is timber industry propaganda.

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