Posts Tagged: Wildfire
The vast California acreage burned in 2020 and the protracted smoky skies should signal state residents and officials to adapt to a new reality, reported Ezra David Romero on Capital Public Radio. The 4 million acres of wildland burned this year isn't unprecedented.
Before 1800, 4.5 million or more burned every year in California, according to a UC Berkeley study.
Tragic as they are, parts of the 2020 fires will bring some areas back to natural equilibrium.
However, the burns are unprecedented in California's modern, highly populated times.
“I don't think that we can have another season like this without something fundamentally shifting,” he said “This is another indication of how we need to think differently about how we approach managing fire, and how we need to become more of a fire-adapted civilization."
It may be "a tough pill to swallow," but Jones told Romero that smoky skies could become a year-long reality because of prescribed burns in cooler months and a prolonged wildfire season in the warmer months.
“People are exhausted,” Jones said, “they're scared and don't understand this fundamental shift and change.”
Jones says the current fire season should also force people to rethink where communities should be built.
Five of California's six largest fires have occurred in 2020, reported Julie Cart in CalMatters.
Lenya Quinn-Davidson, a fire specialist with the University of California Cooperative Extension. “This year was not just the fluke burning horrifically. This is 3.2 million acres of fire that burned in a month.”
Quinn-Davidson is based in Humboldt County, with typically rainy, foggy redwood forests. However, she said, the forests don't resemble their former state.
"They are suffering from the same things that the rest of the state forests are. They are poorly managed and have fuels buildup," Quinn-Davidson said.
Redwood and pine forests are many times more dense than at any time in their history.
"We are now entering a new regime, the climate is changing and we are seeing drier conditions and we are seeing a longer fire season. We are not getting that fall precipitation," she said.
The state's 2018 Fourth Climate Assessment included dire predictions for the North Coast: “Future wildfire projections suggest a longer fire season, an increase in wildfire frequency, and an expansion of the area susceptible to fire.”
Average annual maximum temperatures in Mendocino, Humboldt, Del Norte, Lake, Trinity and Siskiyou Counties could increase by as much as 9 degrees through the end of the century, the report concluded.
Scott Stephens, a fire scientist at UC Berkeley. “So when lighting strikes, you get an overwhelming number of ignitions in fuels that have been preconditioned to burn.”
The fog that reliably blankets the North Coast is dissipating. Research from UC Berkeley found that fog frequency has declined by a third compared with a century ago.
“Even here in Humboldt County — we are right on the ocean, basically in a rainforest — people are starting to look around and say, ‘Is my house ready for a wildfire?' I'm hearing those conversations,” Quinn-Davidson said.
Three news articles over the last weekend shared comments from UC Agriculture and Natural Resource's experts about forest management practices that can help reduced the catastrophic wildfires being experiences in the West.
Prescribed burns and management change fire behavior
Shaver Lake forest historian Jared Dahl Aldern tweeted that, when the high-intensity Creek Fire arrived at the Shaver Lake forestlands, it turned into a low-intensity “surface fire,” which does not threaten the bigger and older trees. “The fire comes up to @SCE land,” tweeted Aldern, “drops to the ground, and stays out of the tree crowns.”
Whatever happens to Shaver Lake, says University of California Cooperative Extension specialist Rob York, “There are lots of cases in the scientific literature of prescribed burns having changed fire behavior.”
The image below shows a “shaded fuel break,” consisting of selectively-thinned forest surrounded on both sides by dense forest. “The strip of forest may change fire behavior in the treated area,” said York, “but not on either side.
Forbes, Sept. 13, 2010
Millions of dead trees fueling unprecedented firestorms in the Sierra Nevada
“I don't want to be alarmist. But I think the conditions are there,” said Scott Stephens, a UC Berkeley professor of fire science and lead author of a 2018 paper that raised the specter of future mass forest fires as intense as the Dresden, Germany, and Tokyo firebombings.
“As those [trees] continue to fall, the physics of it are unchanged. If you have dead and downed logs … the fires described in warfare are possible.”
A combination of prescribed fire, restoration thinning and making rural communities more fire resistant are needed, Stephens said.
“If we don't come out of this year focused on that and try to move forward, I just don't know if there's much hope,” he said. “I'm always hopeful. But I'm getting tired.”
Los Angeles Times, Sept. 13, 2020
Results of long-time fire suppression
Perhaps the most present term in news articles as one of the main causes for fires getting so big so fast is fire suppression, which has resulted in a lack of fire for more than a century.
In the 1920s, this idea of suppressing wildfires grew even more when the Forest Service decided intentional burning was a bad idea. In 1924 a Siskiyou National Forest Supervisor said the ‘“Brushy Hell' of shrublands must be protected for the benefit of future timberland succession, ‘so leave them alone.'”
“The Forest Service said it ruins forests, it was bad forest management,” said Kocher. “Then in 1924, California followed suit and said it was not legal to burn forests on purpose.”
Kocher says this idea of letting trees grow and not letting forests burn naturally every decade wasn't this malicious idea either.
“They would have thought, ‘Oh, we're doing this great work where we're leaving all these extra trees for people to use for timber moving forward,'” she said. “I don't think those early foresters ever could have foreseen how fire could get away from them.”
Capitol Public Radio, Sept. 12, 2020
Ezra David Romero
The massive die-off of conifers in the Sierra Nevada between 2012 and 2018 was predictable and unprecedented. Sadly, it is also likely to happen again, said UC Cooperative Extension forestry advisor Susie Kocher.
To help landowners manage forests in a way that minimizes the risk of such catastrophic tree die-off and the threat of uncontrolled wildfire, Kocher and two colleagues produced a 20-page publication that summarizes current research on tree mortality and outlines actions that can be taken to make the forest more resilient. The publication, Mass Tree Mortality, Fuels, and Fire: A Guide for Sierra Nevada Forest Landowners, is available for free download from the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources catalog.
Written by Stanford graduate student Devin McMahon (now graduated), UC Berkeley Cooperative Extension forest health specialist Jodi Axelson and Kocher, the publication presents the extent of the die-off in the Sierra Nevada, and describes different factors that contributed to the vast loss of tree life – including land management practices, weather patterns and geography. It includes detailed reporting on the mortality's impacts on fuels and fire risk so landowners and managers can understand and develop strategies to prevent similar destruction in the future.
While about two-thirds of California's 33 million acres of forests are public lands held by state and federal government agencies, the rest is in private hands. Large companies manage millions of acres for commercial timber production, but about 9 million acres are owned by individuals. Nearly 90% of individuals own 50 acres or less; 87,000 landowners have 10 acres or more of forest.
“That's a really large number of people,” Kocher said. “That's one of the reasons why it is so difficult for landowners to manage land to improve forest health and reduce fire risk. It's not economical to do forest management on small areas.”
It's also very complicated. As natural processes play out over time in a forest with mass mortality, the fire risk changes dramatically.
“In the new publication, we help people understand the nuances of forest management so they understand what actions are most appropriate throughout the whole cycle,” she said.
Assessing and addressing the fire risk
The publication provides an overview of fire risk reduction. A table lays out the seven components of fire risk – fuel load, fuel moisture, fuel continuity, probability of ignition, weather conditions, topography and vulnerability to fire – along with mitigation actions for each that landowners can take.
Intentional, controlled burning, or prescribed fire, is often the most effective way to decrease fuel loads and future risk from fires, the researchers wrote. Other management actions include masticating – chewing up brush and branches with specialized equipment – felling and removing dying and dead standing trees, and thinning live trees.
The authors conclude with a glimmer of hope for the future of California forest lands. “Carefully planned forest management can reduce the amount and continuity of fuel on the landscape and limit the risk of destructive fire after tree mortality.”
Cattle can help reduce wildfire danger by grazing on fine fuels in rangeland and forest landscapes, reported Sierra Dawn McClain in Capital Press. The article also appeared in the Blue Mountain Eagle, the Westerner and the East Oregonian.
The article cited the preliminary results of research by UC Cooperative Extension that show that cattle consumed approximately 12.4 billion pounds of forage across California in 2017. The researchers believe the cattle could do more.
Many grazable acres aren't grazed, said Sheila Barry, UCCE livestock and natural resources advisor in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa counties. According to the Capital Press article, Barry said the public doesn't always recognize the benefits of grazing; they see short grass and cow patties. Cattle's role in preventing wildfires is often overlooked.
Devii Rao, UCCE livestock and natural resources advisor for San Benito, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties and the study's lead, said ranchers should target grazing around homes, infrastructure, roadsides and at the wildland-urban interface.
“There are so many things we can do better. Cattle grazing is really important to fire safety, and it's time we have more conversations about it,” Rao said.