Sierra Summit

Conversations and observations about California's mountains

January 8, 2009
Fire, climate and thinning

My recent article about the Moonlight Fire in Plumas County - and how scientists now believe climate change is helping to spark more destructive wildfires  - drew a number of responses about the value of thinning  over-crowded stands before a fire starts. You might think of it as preventative medicine - and while controversial among some environmentalists - it has been shown to reduce the damage caused by today's increasingly severe fires. 

From Chester, Jay Francis, forest manager at the Collins Pine Company - wrote to say that the same day the Moonlight Fire began (Sept. 3, 2007), another fire started on his company's property about 15 miles to the west.  "Officials estimated it had been burning for about 10 hours (overnight) when they first arrived on scene yet they were able to catch it with just 1 engine and a water tender," Jay wrote in an email. "Human caused, probably a cigarette, but probably not intentional.  The big difference is that our fire was in an area that had been biomass thinned about 12 years ago and then logged again (for the 4th time) about 3 years ago.  Quite a contrast."

Jay attached a photo of the Collins Pine fire, shown immediately below. A few smaller trees    


 have obviously been killed, but many more  bigger ones survived. Now compare that with a different photo - one at the bottom of this blog.  That picture, which I took this fall, shows an over-crowded mixed conifer stand in the Plumas National Forest north of Indian Valley that not been thinned and was severely burned by the Moonlight fire. Not much living remains. 

Which forest will sequester more carbon dioxide in coming decades - and help California meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets?  Which forest will be home to a greater variety of wildlife? Which will yield higher quality water? As fires continue to burn, some fear Sierra Nevada forests will become an overall source of CO2, not a natural green `sink' that soaks it up. What are your thoughts? What role should thinning play in keeping forests healthy? Do you know of examples where thinning has helped - or hurt - our western forest? Let me know. With your input, I hope to continue a dialogue on this subject in coming months.  To read my original Bee report on climate change and wildfire, go to:

moonlight 1b.jpg
Here - to the left - is the forest burned by the Moonlight fire. 

For more information about Collins Pine, one of the West's most environmentally responsible timber companies, can be found at:

On October 14, The Sacramento Bee will temporarily remove commenting from While we design the upgrade, we encourage you to tell us what you like and don't like about commenting on and other websites. We've heard from hundreds of you already and we're listening. Please continue to add your thoughts and questions here. We also encourage you to write Letters to the Editor on this and other topics.

About Sierra Summit

The Author
Tom Knudson lives in the Sierra Nevada and travels widely throughout the range. His hobbies include fly-fishing, backpacking and cross-country skiing. He is the recipient of numerous journalistic awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes, one for a 1992 Sacramento Bee series "Sierra in Peril," a watershed work about environmental threats to the mountain range. E-mail Tom at

Visit's Sierra Warming section

October 2013

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31