An experienced forester and an environmental scientist have some harsh words for politically correct “experts” and the authorities over the current spate of wildfires in US forests.
“Global warming may contribute slightly, but the key factors are mismanaged forests, years of fire suppression, increased population, people living where they should not, invasive flammable species, and the fact that California has always had fire,” University of Washington climate scientist Cliff Mass told TheDCNF.
Mass also noted there hasn’t been much warming in the Pacific Northwest, adding that natural weather patterns in California prime the state for wildfires every year no matter what.
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Zybach also doesn’t buy that global warming is exacerbating fires. Through his research, Zybach analyzed thousands of official documents, reports and first-hand accounts of wildfire activity going back hundreds of years. His conclusion: wildfire season hasn’t changed much.
“To say there’s been another change, other than management, is just grasping at straws,” Zybach said.
What has changed is land management. For example, declines in timber production on federal lands, particularly in the Northwest, not only meant the death of a once vibrant industry, but also an end to thinning, controlled burns and other activities meant to keep forest growth in check.
Wildfire experts have also increasingly been pointing to the fact that more people and infrastructure are located in wildfire-prone areas than in the past, increasing the risk of wildfires impacting livelihoods.
A recent study found the number of homes at risk of wildfires in the western U.S. increased 1,000 percent since 1940, from about 607,000 in 1940 to 6.7 million. Since most fires are ignited by humans, the more people in fire-prone areas the higher the risk.
“This is a people problem,” said U.S. Geological Survey fire expert Jon Keeley. “What’s changing is not the fires themselves but the fact that we have more and more people at risk.”
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Active management of the forests and logging kept fires at bay for decades, but that largely ended in the 1980s over concerns too many old growth trees and the northern spotted owl. Lawsuits from environmental groups hamstrung logging and government planners cut back on thinning trees and road maintenance.
Zybach said Native Americans used controlled burns to manage the landscape in Oregon, Washington and northern California for thousands of years. Tribes would burn up to 1 million acres a year on the west coast to prime the land for hunting and grazing, Zybach’s research has shown.
“The Indians had lots of big fires, but they were controlled,” Zybach said. “It’s the lack of Indian burning, the lack of grazing” and other active management techniques that caused fires to become more destructive in the 19th and early 20th centuries before logging operations and forest management techniques got fires under control in the mid-20th Century.
There’s much more at the link. Recommended reading.
Another factor I can think of is the materials from which houses are built. If brick, concrete or stucco walls are used, with corrugated iron or other fireproof materials for the roof, and as little exposed wood or other flammable materials as possible, the building is much more likely to survive a fire. Similarly, if vegetation is cleared to a safe distance around the house, it’s much less likely that the fire will be able to reach it in the first place. If one’s going to live in the midst of a natural firetrap, those seem like obvious precautions . . . but I suppose they’re not, judging by the ever greater number of people encroaching on our forests and formerly “wild” lands.
Despite that, however, I have no problem blaming mismanagement for many of the current problems. Environmentalists have often substituted feelings for facts. We’re seeing the results right now. I imagine most of the spotted owls “saved” through their intervention are now nicely seasoned and roasted, just in time to feed the weary fire crews as they clean up.