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Impact of forest thinning on wildfires creates divisions

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Firefighters and numerous studies credit intensive forest thinning projects with helping save communities like those recently threatened near Lake Tahoe in California and Nevada, but dissent from some environmental advocacy groups is roiling the scientific community.

States in the U.S. West and the federal government each year thin thousands of acres of dense timber and carve broad swaths through the forest near remote communities, all designed to slow the spread of massive wildfires.

The projects aim to return overgrown forests to the way they were more than a century ago, when lower-intensity blazes cleared the underbrush regularly and before land managers began reflexively extinguishing every wildfire as soon as possible.

Such so-called fuel reduction efforts also include using fire to fight fire, with fires deliberately set in the cooler, wetter months to burn out dangerous fuels. Forest managers credit such burns with helping protect the Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park. The state of California eased some regulations to increase the use of that tactic.

While most scientific studies find such forest management is a valuable tool, environmental advocates say data from recent gigantic wildfires support their long-running assertion that efforts to slow wildfires have instead accelerated their spread.

The argument is fueling an already passionate debate.

It has led to a flurry of citations of dueling studies and fed competing claims that the science may be skewed by ideology.

The debate came to a head over this year's giant Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon.

“Not only did tens of........

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