Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, ForestsTags , , , ,

As California burns, some ecologists say it’s time to rethink forest management

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.

Read more at https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-08-21/california-burning-is-it-time-to-rethink-forest-management

Posted on Categories Forests, Local OrganizationsTags , , , ,

Local tribal citizens are advocating for more cultural burns

Katherine Minkiewicz-Martine, SOCONEWS

As smoke from the massive Dixie Fire made its way to Sonoma County, the Healdsburg Fire Department convened a group of fire ecologists, land management experts and stewardship specialists on Aug. 4 to provide a presentation to the community on fire ecology and how certain burns can help restore the land and work to help prevent devastating wildfires.

Clint McKay is a tribal citizen of the Dry Creek Band of Pomo and Wappo Indians. He’s a retired parks superintendent for the city of Santa Rosa and he spends much of his time giving fire ecology talks and working as an Indigenous education coordinator at the Pepperwood Preserve.

He also refuses to use the term “land management.”

“Management invokes that you control something, that you can control it and command it. Obviously we cannot,” McKay said. “I chuckle to myself every time I hear ‘natural resource management,’ ‘fire fuels management,’ ‘vegetation management.’ If we begin to think that we can manage fire, we’re in for a whole lot more of what we’ve been experiencing the past decade and what we are continuing to experience today.”

McKay has been advocating for cultural burns for a long time, however, the idea of using fire to prevent fire can sometimes be tenuous among fire fatigued Sonoma County residents.

Read more at https://soconews.org/scn_healdsburg/news/local-tribal-citizens-are-advocating-for-more-cultural-burns/article_35d615f6-f8a7-11eb-bfaa-d7403ca9249a.html?

Posted on Categories ForestsTags , ,

‘Good fire’ revival: How controlled burns in Sonoma County aim to curb risk of catastrophic wildfires

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Such burns are an efficient, inexpensive option in many cases, compared to labor-intensive manual thinning and mechanical treatments, which can cost $2,500 to $4,000 an acre and up, depending if equipment like a wood chipper or pile burning is needed.

Che Casul, a seventh-generation Sonoma County rancher, badly wanted to see his woods on fire. With three others, he walked along the edge of a 33-acre patch of oak woodlands on his family’s Bodega Highway ranch. They carried drip torches filled with diesel fuel and gasoline. As they paced their way through the forest, they released small flaming droplets meant to coalesce into a wider curtain of flames creeping along the earthen floor — a prescribed fire.

But it was a damp December day, with light rain falling by afternoon across this corner of southwestern Sonoma County, so the flames that did spread were subdued, producing a blue smoke that hovered just above the ground, swirling around the two dozen men and women clad in yellow firefighter gear and spread throughout the woodland.

Casul, 34, had invited the firefighters onto the property, part of a controlled deployment of fire that had been in the works many months earlier — as catastrophic wildfires once again overtook California, burning a record 4.2 million acres, including more than 290,000 acres of Sonoma and Napa counties.

For Casul and the team of firefighters and volunteers assembled on his 213-acre spread just inland from the Sonoma Coast, conditions were less combustible, partly by design.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/good-fire-revival-how-controlled-burns-in-sonoma-county-aim-to-curb-risk/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, WaterTags , , , ,

California unveils sweeping wildfire prevention plan amid record fire losses and drought

John Myers, LOS ANGELES TIMES

California Wildfire and Resilience Action Plan

After the worst fire season in California history and as drought conditions raise fears of what’s to come, Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders unveiled a $536-million proposal Thursday to boost efforts at firefighting and a variety of prevention measures, including vegetation management and the construction of fire-resistant structures across the state.

The proposal, which the Legislature could send to the governor’s desk as soon as Monday, marks an early agreement by the governor and lawmakers to spend more than half of the $1 billion in wildfire funding Newsom called for in his state budget proposal in January. The gravity of the issue became clear last week after state officials reported the water content in the Sierra Nevada snowpack stood at 59% of the average for early spring.

“The science is clear: Warming winter temperatures and warming summer temperatures across the American West are creating more challenging and dangerous wildfire conditions,” said Wade Crowfoot, the governor’s secretary of natural resources.

According to an outline provided by legislative staff, more than $350 million will be spent on fire prevention and suppression efforts, including prescribed fires and other projects designed to reduce the vegetation growth that has fueled California’s most devastating fires. The package also includes $25 million for fortifying older homes that weren’t built using fire-resistance methods required during construction over the last decade.

Read more at https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-04-08/california-wildfire-prevention-536-million-newsom-lawmakers

Posted on Categories Forests, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

They know how to prevent megafires. Why won’t anybody listen?

Elizabeth Weil, PROPUBLICA

This is a story about frustration, about watching the West burn when you fully understand why it’s burning — and understand why it did not need to be this bad.

What a week. Rough for all Californians. Exhausting for the firefighters on the front lines. Heart-shattering for those who lost homes and loved ones. But a special “Truman Show” kind of hell for the cadre of men and women who’ve not just watched California burn, fire ax in hand, for the past two or three or five decades, but who’ve also fully understood the fire policy that created the landscape that is now up in flames.

“What’s it like?” Tim Ingalsbee repeated back to me, wearily, when I asked him what it was like to watch California this past week. In 1980, Ingalsbee started working as a wildland firefighter. In 1995, he earned a doctorate in environmental sociology. And in 2005, frustrated by the huge gap between what he was learning about fire management and seeing on the fire line, he started Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology. Since then FUSEE has been lobbying Congress, and trying to educate anybody who will listen, about the misguided fire policy that is leading to the megafires we are seeing today.

So what’s it like? “It’s just … well … it’s horrible. Horrible to see this happening when the science is so clear and has been clear for years. I suffer from Cassandra syndrome,” Ingalsbee said. “Every year I warn people: Disaster’s coming. We got to change. And no one listens. And then it happens.”

The pattern is a form of insanity: We keep doing overzealous fire suppression across California landscapes where the fire poses little risk to people and structures. As a result, wildland fuels keep building up. At the same time, the climate grows hotter and drier. Then, boom: the inevitable. The wind blows down a power line, or lightning strikes dry grass, and an inferno ensues. This week we’ve seen both the second- and third-largest fires in California history. “The fire community, the progressives, are almost in a state of panic,” Ingalsbee said. There’s only one solution, the one we know yet still avoid. “We need to get good fire on the ground and whittle down some of that fuel load.”

Yes, there’s been talk across the U.S. Forest Service and California state agencies about doing more prescribed burns and managed burns. The point of that “good fire” would be to create a black-and-green checkerboard across the state. The black burned parcels would then provide a series of dampers and dead ends to keep the fire intensity lower when flames spark in hot, dry conditions, as they did this past week. But we’ve had far too little “good fire,” as the Cassandras call it. Too little purposeful, healthy fire. Too few acres intentionally burned or corralled by certified “burn bosses” (yes, that’s the official term in the California Resources Code) to keep communities safe in weeks like this.

Academics believe that between 4.4 million and 11.8 million acres burned each year in prehistoric California. Between 1982 and 1998, California’s agency land managers burned, on average, about 30,000 acres a year. Between 1999 and 2017, that number dropped to an annual 13,000 acres. The state passed a few new laws in 2018 designed to facilitate more intentional burning. But few are optimistic this, alone, will lead to significant change. We live with a deathly backlog. In February 2020, Nature Sustainability published this terrifying conclusion: California would need to burn 20 million acres — an area about the size of Maine — to restabilize in terms of fire.

Read more at https://www.propublica.org/article/they-know-how-to-prevent-megafires-why-wont-anybody-listen?utm_source=sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dailynewsletter&utm_content=feature