California’s forests are on fire…again

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Gray skies, ash covering the streets and the scent of the burning forest have become an all-too-common phenomenon of summer in the West.

On July 29, around 2:15 p.m., a wildfire broke out in northern Siskiyou County, where nearly 50% of the land is managed by the federal government.

By the end of the day, the fire had grown to over 315 acres; not as bad as it could be, considering the 100 degree temperatures and rough terrain it was scorching.

In just 24 hours, the McKinney Fire exploded to over 30,000 acres.

Within two days, the inferno had grown into the largest fire in the state and had scorched an area the size of Oakland. The resulting pollutants killed thousands of fish in the Klamath River, four dead have been reported, and thousands of residents were evacuated.

This recent fire is just another example of how mismanagement of national forests belies the claim that forest managers are effectively protecting nature. In doing so, millions of lives are put at risk.

As a forest service admits:

Wildfire can be friend and foe. In the right place at the right time, wildfires can create many environmental benefits, such as the reduction of grass, brush, and trees that can fuel large and severe wildfires and improve wildlife habitat. In the wrong place at the wrong time, wildfires can wreak havoc, threatening lives, homes, communities, and natural and cultural resources.

The United States Forest Service recognizes the harm that a wildfire at the wrong time and in the wrong place could cause irreparable damage. Even with this knowledge, they changed their policy from extinguishing fires to managing them. Even a flash in the middle of the central valley or a forest fire started from the sparks from a flat tire of a trailer. Would anyone agree that these random events happened at the right time or in the right place? Unless the fire is a planned prescribed burn, it is not a fire that should be allowed to burn.

Yet, before the natural wildfires in our forests are allowed to burn, the damage caused by the past 100 years of neglect must be cleaned up. There is more of 129 million dead trees in California forests. These trees died due to three major factors: overcrowded forests, bark beetle infestations and drought.

In the 1980s, more than 12 billion board feet of timber were removed from federal forests. Logging companies replanted various forests with a single species of tree that was growing at excessive rates. The companies assumed that in the future they would harvest as many if not more trees than in previous years.

Unfortunately, in 1994, Bill Clinton adopted the Northwest Forest Planwhich has reduced the amount of logging on federal lands to a level not seen since the 1930s and 1940s. bark beetle infestation.

bark beetles are common pests of conifers. When beetles attack a tree, it releases pheromones which attract more beetles until the tree is overwhelmed and killed. Entire forests containing only one type of conifer can be destroyed very quickly.

Hotter summers and drier winters have left the forests in a very fragile state. Struggling to obtain needed nutrients in an increasingly hostile environment would force even the most resilient species to endure. As California continues to experience drought conditions year after year, the number of trees dying in the forest will continue to increase.

The US Forest Service can slow this down by reducing the density of flora competing for resources. If 15% of the trees least likely to survive are removed from forests each year, within five years there will be a massive reduction in unhealthy trees, and those that remain will not have such onerous competition. .

We are at a turning point.

Does the US Forest Service allow fires to take their natural course and destroy our natural treasures like the Ferguson fireannihilate our communities like what happened in the Campfireand destroy the natural resources of our forests as in the August Complex?

Or do they choose to fight unwanted and dangerous fires that threaten lives, homes, communities, and natural and cultural resources? Are they trying to restore a healthy forest? This involves removing ground litter and dead trees that fuel massive wildfires, instituting responsible logging practices, and replanting various native plants.

Suffering from wildfire smoke should not be a requirement for living in the West.

This can be corrected.

Spenser Stenmark covers natural resource management, forestry, fire ecology, and other critical policy issues affecting the Pacific Northwest.

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