Chad Hanson is an ecologist with the John Muir Project and the author of Smokescreen: Debunking Wildfire Myths to Save Our Forests and Our Climate (University Press Kentucky, May 2021).
Earlier this month, the Dixie Fire leveled most of the town of Greenville, California. I know the town well — I conducted fieldwork for my doctoral dissertation there. Thankfully, everyone survived. But the downtown is gone, along with 75 percent of the homes.
It didn’t need to happen.
Fire has always been a concern for communities like Greenville in the northern Sierra Nevada mountains. And, for decades, the U.S. Forest Service and the timber industry told the townspeople that logging tens of thousands of acres — under the guise of “thinning” — would create “fuel breaks” to slow or even stop wildfires and prevent flames from reaching Main Street.
Greenville became a booster for this approach to fire prevention, joining other towns in a pro-logging consortium that sent letters supporting the strategy to members of Congress. Their advocacy ultimately delivered a federal policy called the Quincy Library Group Act, which promoted a series of logging... Read more