Towards Better Forest Management ?
I am NOT suggesting that better forest management would eliminate wildfires, NOR that it is poor forest management that causes fires without climate change being a big factor.
But I do have a few suggestions that might reduce the incidence a bit.
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The last few years have been the worst ever years for forest fires in California. Not so great in some other states too.
While climate change is by far the biggest factor, including a 5 year drought in California which killed a lot of forest trees, I think there are a few things we might do going foreward that could reduce the risks and the damage. The effects of recent fires in burning out large areas could be regarded as an oppertunity to create more manageable forests.
It should be obvious that more fire breaks and wider ones could make limiting fire spreads more feasible. A fire break is a cleared more or less linear area that will not support any sparks or fire. These can also serve as access roads for fire vehicles. They can also serve as hiking and horseback trails and , in winter, snowshoe and cross-country ski trails. However they must be totally off limits to any spark producing vehicles. No ATVs allowed, no motorbikes allowed. (Personal note : some of the fire breaks in the Angeles Forest were very nice horseback trails which I rode with enjoyment to my horse and myself. Some others were too steep for most horses.)
All electrical transmission lines should have really really wide fire breaks on either side. Perhaps as wide as a mile on either side. How wide is a science question, but err on the side of wider. The expense of creating these and maintaining these should be the burden of the electric company. Perhaps they would find moving lines underground to be less expensive.
Elsewhere the location of breaks would be guided by the terrain, the human habitation areas to be in need of protection, and the need for road access to remove dead trees and for crews to do forest floor clean-up.
The need to remove dead trees that can burn easily should be obvious. The problem in doing so is that for many areas there are no roads for trucks.
But trucks are not the only way to move felled trees. Before there were trucks, trees and logs were moved by draft horses with skilled handlers. This is still a method in modern use. There are quite a few horses and people still practicing this craft professionally in areas where trucks would not be practical or where the damage from trucking would be undesirable. This art can be seen as a competitive sport at some county fairs, though so much simpler in an arena than in the real forest. Those who are skilled could teach others and train horses. Horses of course are very good at producing more horses.
Some of these dead trees can be economically useful once they reach the sawmill. Some can yield boards of lumber. Others can yield wood chips for making of particle board panels or for use as livestock bedding or as plant mulch.
Perhaps we could institute a new Civilian Conservation Corps, as in the Great Depression's New Deal, to send crews out into the forests to clear away brush and debris. Also to plant new young trees in deforested areas, but to plant in patterns that are less vulnerable to wildfire spread. Possibly to plant tree species that are less easily burnt.
In areas closer to human habitations, perhaps some civic groups would like to take responsibility for a designated patch of forest. This is the same idea that inspires such groups to take responsibility for cleaning up trash along a chosen stretch of highway.
But here's another case of "animals to the rescue". In some forests in Europe, such as the Black Forest in Germany, flocks of sheep or goats managed by a shepherd and trained herding dogs do controlled grazing to eat up various brush and undergrowth that would otherwise be fuel for the start and spred of forest fires. These same sheep will yield valuable wool. (Some goats yield useful fibres). There are still herding people around who would understand this task. (I've been taught by some of them, and some of my long-gone dogs would have loved the assignment).
It's long past time to admit that human habitations simply don't belong in areas of high fire risk. We need to rate fire risk zones in way comparable to the way we rate flood zones.
There are fire risk areas where houses should not be allowed at all. Risks too high and costs of fire fighting too high in human lives and in dollars. New houses in those areas should be forbidden. When houses already present in those areas are destroyed , re-building at same location or other in that area should not be allowed. Insurance companies should be empowered to say that they will pay only for replacement outside the zone, but not for re-building in the same zone or in another high risk zone.
Those highest risk areas would go back to being wildnerness, but a somewhat managed wilderness. This would provide habitat for many species other than human.
There are areas not quite so bad where the rules on the home occupant's duty to clear "defensible space" should be much greater and enforecement very strict, with paid crews quick to do the job if the home occupant is tardy. In those areas insurance companies should be allowed to charge premium rates that reflect the real risk level. Some portion of the cost of developing and maintaining fire breaks should fall upon the inhabitants of the area protected by those breaks.
And so on, through lesser risk areas.
By the way , the same concept applies to flood risk areas. Currently insurance rates for some of those areas are heavily subsidized. Those subsidies should be phased out over an appropriate period of years.
Risk ratings for fire and flood should be re-evaluated periodically, perhaps at 10 year intervals or maybe even 5 year intervals. . We know that flood risks in many "30 year" flood zones are now much much higher. Fire risks in many fire risk zones have gotten much higher.
Every forest fire hastens global climate change. Change for the worse. This is a viscious spiral and will become unstoppable.
Forest fires send smoke into the air for miles around, making air unhealthy for humans to breathe. (unhealthy for all animals and birds). Those of us with already compromised breathing will die sooner that otherwise.
Living trees soak up CO2 and give out O2, thus improving the environment and combatting climate change. Burning trees, of course, give out CO2 and dead decaying trees do so too.
If we do not reduce birth rates all over the planet , but especially in the affluent "developed" nations, we will not be able to ameliorate any of our "environmental" problems , including climate change.
We can choose to reduce birth rates or we can let the consequences of over-population act to increas death rates. We can reduce birth rates and work towards a comfortable life for all of a reduced population or we can breed ourselves into greater and greater problems and miseries and ultimately into a population crash or even into human extinction.return to top of page