The western United States is experiencing another devastating year of fire. California alone has burned more than 4.1 million acres of land, at least 31 people have died, and hundreds have been forced to flee their homes.
Wildfires increasingly follow familiar patterns: bigger, hotter and more destructive. The most recent headline of the Los Angeles Times declared 2020 the “worst season of fires. Again” it illustrates that some residents are frustrated with the state’s shooting strategy.
For decades, federal, state, and local agencies have focused fire fighting on prevention, investing billions of dollars in hiring and training firefighters, purchasing and maintaining fire fighting equipment, and educating the public about fire safety.
However, as climate change continues to contribute to dry conditions in the western United States, many experts say that a long time has passed since they have shifted their attention to managing forests that can better resist fires and increase a more sustainable future.
“Fires have always been part of our ecosystem,”
The history of federal forest management can be traced back to the 1870s, when Congress established an office within the United States Department of Agriculture to assess the quality and condition of forests. In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt (Theodore Roosevelt) oversaw the establishment of the American Forest Service Corporation, which managed 193 million acres of public land across the country.
In California, forest management is also under the jurisdiction of the State Forestry and Fire Department, which is called the California Fire Department.
Since 2011, Cal Fire has spent more than $600 million on fire prevention work, clearing or cutting down nearly 2 million dead trees. In 2018, California set a treatment target-including felling, burning, sawing or felling of trees-500,000 acres of wasteland per year, but Cal Fire is still far from reaching that target.
“This is an ongoing process,” said Christine McMurrow, a spokeswoman for the California Fire Department. “There will always be more work to be done.”
The California Fire Department (Cal Fire) has been steadily receiving funding to do everything it can to reduce the risk of wildfires, including improving land management and training a new generation of foresters. In 2018, former Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that would allocate $1 billion to Cal Fire over five years for fire prevention measures. But experts warn that more money is needed.
“Is it enough? Well, it is enough for what we are doing now, but is it enough to complete all the work that needs to be done in one, five or ten years? It will cost a lot,” McMorrow said.
Long before the country was founded, Spanish explorers documented California wildfires. In 1542, the conqueror Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed along the coast and noticed heavy smoke billowing from what is now called the Los Angeles Basin. He called it “Smoke Bay” or “Smoke Bay”.
The research of archaeologists and historians supports the theory that Cabrillo may have witnessed early forms of land management, including burning shrubs and forest stands to clean dry brushes and make better for hunting. condition.
For generations, regulations and control of burns have been an integral part of the American landscape. In 1910, the “fire” burned 3 million acres of land in Washington, Idaho, and Montana, killing at least 85 people, and reshaping the fire protection policy in the United States in the next few years, starting with forest management. Turn to the fire.
The US Forest Service ordered all wildfires to be extinguished as soon as possible and finally implemented the so-called 10 am policy, which emphasizes extinguishing the fire in the morning after the fire.
The state’s policy to immediately stop extinguishing fires as soon as they catch fire has resulted in a backlog of trees in the forest, which are now blocked by bushes and other dry fuel. According to the U.S. Forest Service, a researcher studying the Stanislaus National Forest in Northern California found records from 1911 that showed only 19 trees per acre in a forest in the area. More than a century later, the researchers and their team calculated 260 trees per acre.
Rogers said that with the dense cover of trees, there will be a greater risk of fire.
He said: “We have more big trees per acre than ever before because they are growing all the time, and under these big trees are young bushes that burn on the canopy.” “When a fire broke out there. , Unstoppable.”
Drought, climate change, and bark beetle infestations have all led to a backlog of trees, which has led some experts to seek creative solutions to manage the crowded forests in California.
A potential solution might be to convert dead and diseased trees into biomass before they start large-scale wildfires.
Jonathan Kusel established the Sierra Leone Community and Environmental Research Institute, a non-profit research organization, in 1993 to better understand how state and federal agencies use surplus organic materials. The institute is currently working with federal and state partners to study how to supply wood chips made from low-value vegetation to biomass energy facilities and then burn organic matter to generate heat and electricity.
Kusel estimates that if this process is done correctly in a closed barrel, the process is much cleaner than relying on natural gas for energy. It also promotes what Kusel calls “appropriate deforestation” or smaller increases in clearing, which not only reduces the risk of wildfires, but also contributes to cleaner waterways and lower carbon emissions by promoting healthy forests.
He said: “If all we have to do is stop the fire, we will not succeed.” “But we can reduce the destructiveness…we can try to introduce smaller fires to keep the habitat healthy.”
However, finding a buyer for biomass is still a big problem for the Sierra Institute. Among environmentalists, biomass is considered dirty, they warn that burning plant material and releasing it into the air will increase carbon emissions.
Kussel admits that removing a small number of trees from the forest is also more expensive, and the economically unattractive focus is that they can be converted into massive logging. Nevertheless, as wildfires are likely to become larger and more dangerous, Kusel hopes to establish a new local biomass energy market, by establishing a smaller scale and better maintenance, without releasing harmful pollution into the air. Facilities to offset the cost of deforestation in the state.
He said: “In society, we must think differently about forests, but we must also invest and manage forests.” “We must do better.”