As impressive as forest fire smoke columns can be, research shows that only 5 percent of the carbon in big trees is released by fire. That’s because it is the needles, some branches and bark that is actually burned. Most of the carbon remains stored in the unburned tree trunks.
Ground surface fuels account for the vast majority of the carbon released. Grasses and shrubs often begin sprouting and re-storing carbon in the same season.
Not only do unburned tree trunks continue to store vast amounts of carbon, they provide essential habitats for a wide variety of birds and other cavity-nesting wildlife. As trees fall to the ground, they help stabilize the soil and begin to replenish it with organic material and nutrients in addition to nutrients released in the ash. Fallen trees are key for many ground- and log-denning species of wildlife.
Forest fires are nature’s way of rejuvenating forest ecosystems and the process has been going on for thousands of years. The last thing people should do is to bring in heavy machinery and remove the tree trunks as logs for sawmills and biomass energy plants that release the carbon to the atmosphere. This damages sensitive soils and robs the forest of large carbon-storing trees at a critical point in both the natural forest cycle and global warming.
Research, including Forest Service studies, shows that post-fire logging damages the forest ecosystem. Other studies show that logging green trees in an attempt to prevent fires is largely ineffective, due to the inability to predict where fire is going to occur and to duplicate via logging the positive effects of fire.
Simply put, big business has seized upon fires as a smokescreen behind which to hide the immense damage logging does to forest ecosystems and our atmosphere.
—Keith Hammer, Kalispell