The extreme wildfires witnessed in recent years raises a few questions most of which have gone unanswered. There is a public debate on the role of vegetation management to reduce fuels. Enough is not being done in many states of America led by California. Every day, more and more trees are being removed and the rate is alarming and could weaken important environmental protections. The climate is warming, and unhealthy, overly dense forests, which are as a result of decades of management practices.
Thus, what conversation do we need to engage in as a country and a state to change the wildfire narrative?
A multifaceted approach:
There is a need for use of fuel reduction tools like prescribed mechanical thinning and burning which would reduce wildfire threats substantially. However, this would work in a selected ecosystem depending on the land-use practices applied and the frequency of fire. To move the debate forward, there needs to be a public understanding of the applicability of the approaches.
Fuel reduction is a viable tool:
To improve forest resilience, fuel reduction on the US Forest Service lands in places like the Sierra Nevada must need to be increased by some considerably huge magnitude. There must be a commitment by the responsible country and states’ functions to dramatically increase fuel reduction by a big margin in the coming years. In locations where the parties agree on management actions, priority must be given.
Mechanical thinning and logging:
These two approaches can help in reducing fire risk in mixed-conifer forests. The two require access roads, heavy equipment, and technical expertise in forest dynamics. The two approaches are however different in design and intent. Mechanical thinning is a tool, which selectively reduces forest vegetation by clearing the shrubs, small trees, and the ground cover, which fuel the fires. With this practice, the big fire-resistant trees are retained. Logging operations are aimed at harvesting the trees and the danger with this is most of these loggers overdo it so that the land is left looking funnily depleted. Whichever the approach, the merits and demerits of each must carefully be considered and a balance is drawn to avoid the counterproductive practices.
It is a requirement by the state and federal laws that any proposed forest management approach; whether on air, water and sensitive species must be satisfactorily evaluated. These projects would require enough budget and time to accomplish. To increase the pace in the national forest management, additional federal resources must be dedicated to environmental compliance. Small private forest owners need to be involved in the whole discussion; these would help in negotiating the permitting process. The country’s pioneering policies on climate change may not satisfactorily address the wildfire issues the country faces today. There is a need for an immediate impact by the forests management department, which can be implemented under the existing environmental laws. All stakeholders and forest managers must come together, chat the way forward by defining a set of common goals, and then work together. With transparency, then the focus would shift from conflict to reconciliation and this will bring about a sustainable solution to the issue.
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