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Over the weekend, California’s wildfires reached historic scale as a single fire covered 314,207-acres across Napa, Lake, Solano, and Sonoma counties. As New York Magazine reported, in just five days, more land has been burned than in all of 2019, and 500,000 of those acres are in and around the Bay Area. A storm that brought 12,000 lightning strikes started 585 fires which have burned a million acres so far.
Why This Matters: While President has continually criticized California, blaming wildfires solely on forest management (even threatening to deny relief funding to the state), the actual means to help mitigate wildfires are complicated. According to Governor Gavin Newsom’s office, of the 33 million acres of forest land in California, 57% is owned and managed by the federal government, 40% by private landowners and 3% by the state.
Chris Field, director of the Stanford Wood Institute for the Environment, agrees that fuel reduction and fire breaks are important but explained to AP that these measures are just the beginning, adding,
“We also need to upgrade homes and businesses to make them more fire resistant, improve defensible spaces around buildings, and limit ignitions, including from downed power lines.”
The Background: As AP reported in April of 2019, in May 2018, former Gov. Jerry Brown called for doubling the amount of forest land treated each year in California by 2023. The state significantly increased the money it was spending on those efforts, with the Legislature earmarking $1 billion over five years in funds generated by the state’s carbon trading program.
Then in December of 2019, the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection approved a vegetation management program based on more than a decade of analysis of the potential environmental damage from removing different types of fuel, ranging from alpine trees to chaparral. The move sought to fast-track tree-thinning projects, by allowing preapproved environmental analyses rather than starting fresh each time to meet the requirements of California’s strict environmental laws, as AP reported.
Planning Ahead: As The Mercury News reported this weekend, California’s new partnership with the federal government will be part of a three-step plan.
The first part will entail is urging residents to clear “defensible space” around their homes.
And, finally, finishing larger restoration projects to thin trees and brush back to more historic levels, first with chain saws, and then in several years, with controlled burns.
However, this plan is not without its challenges. Residents worry that controlled burns will add to dangerous air quality, while others worry about what to do with all the biomass that will result from brush clearing. And while most environmental groups are generally supportive of the plan, they have expressed that all actions should be guided by science and not the political desires of the logging industry.
By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer The giant sequoia trees in California’s Sequoia National Park are over 1,000 years old and could live another 2,000 years, but climate change-fueled fires are killing them. The trees can usually withstand the flames, but the intensity of recent fires has been overpowering. Last year’s Castle Fire killed up […]
By Amy Lupica, ODP Daily Editor As wildfires and deforestation grip the Amazon rainforest, Indigenous communities are urging world governments to pledge to protect 80% of the forest by 2025. The groups launched their campaign at a biodiversity conference in France, where experts from around the world are laying the groundwork for the UN’s delayed […]
By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer A new assessment found that at least 30% of the world’s 60,000 tree species are nearing extinction in the wild. The number of tree species threatened— 17,500— is twice that of threatened mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles combined. Why this Matters: Trees are crucial to maintaining the earth’s ecosystems. Trees not […]
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