Wildfires Tearing Through California Fuel Debate Over Logging

SACRAMENTO -- In recent tweets, President Donald Trump seems to suggest allowing more logging in our state’s forests will reduce wildfire risk.

While that industry agrees, environmental groups say it will have the opposite effect.

California Governor Jerry Brown has pushed for a re-examination of the "way we manage our forests." Wildfire victims have also spoken out on the issue.

"Now that it’s all burned down, they move forward with some sort of like forest management," said Fawn Elhadidi, who lost her home to the Carr Fire.

But Cal Fire says it’s been doing forest management all along.

"Forest management really is our core mission. It's mechanized equipment, what we call masticators, that physically go out and do it," said Cal Fire Deputy Director Mike Mohler. "We do ... our hand crews go out and do shaded fuel breaks around communities, tree removals, and that happens year round. It’s not just putting fire on the ground."

"If you have a thinned forest the fire will go through without destroying the forest," said California Forestry Association President Rich Gordon.

The California Forestry Association represents the state’s timber companies. Gordon told FOX40 this year’s fire season has brought a heightened interest in the logging industry from lawmakers.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook from members of the legislator saying, 'What more can we do to prevent these fires, to make Californians safe?'" Gordon said.

He says decades of fire suppression have left forests overgrown, fueling wildfires, which have grown bigger every year.

"When John Muir arrived in California we had about 40 trees to an acre," Gordon said. "Today there are hundreds of trees to an acre."

"The whole conversation about logging out in the forest is just a red herring," said Dr. Chad Hansen, a research ecologist for the John Muir Project.

But Hansen, who is also a National Board of Directors member for the Sierra Club, says logging is not the answer.

"Because what logging does is it removes a lot of the fire-resistant trees and leaves behind combustible slash debris," Hansen said.

Hansen says most of the recent homes burned are actually lost in grasslands or oak woodlands and not near forests. Instead of pouring money into logging operations deep in the forests, Hansen believes the state should instead invest in defending communities.

"What the science is telling us is the way to save homes and lives is to focus those resources at the homes themselves," Hansen said. "We can make homes fire safe. If it’s done properly, over 95 percent of homes will survive a wildland fire, even a fast moving intense fire."

The state is certainly spending money on the issue. On Tuesday, Cal Fire announced that more than $170 million has been awarded in grants to prevent wildfires and to restore forest health. That money will be going out to more than a hundred agencies and organizations across the state.