Hayley Smith and Alex Wigglesworth, LOS ANGELES TIMES
As he stood amid the rubble of the town of Greenville, Gov. Gavin Newsom this month vowed to take proactive steps to protect California’s residents from increasingly devastating wildfires.
“We recognize that we’ve got to do more in active forest management, vegetation management,” Newsom said, noting that the region’s extreme heat and drought are leading to “wildfire challenges the likes of which we’ve never seen in our history.”
Yet despite a universal desire to avoid more destruction, experts aren’t always in agreement about what should be done before a blaze ignites. Forest management has long been touted as essential to fighting wildfires, with one new set of studies led by the University of Wisconsin and the U.S. Forest Service concluding that there is strong scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of thinning dense forests and reducing fuels through prescribed burns.
But some ecologists say that logging, thinning and other tactics that may have worked in the past are no longer useful in an era of ever hotter, larger and more frequent wildfires.
“The fact is that forest management is not stopping weather- and climate-driven fires,” said Chad Hanson, a forest and fire ecologist and the president of the John Muir Project.
Many of California’s most devastating recent fires — including 2018’s deadly Camp fire and the Dixie fire, now the state’s second largest on record — seared straight through forests that had been treated for fuel reduction and fire prevention purposes, Hanson said.