21 Oct 2009, 10:37am
Forestry education Saving Forests
by admin

Choking Smoke From Catastrophic Fires Unhealthy, A-historical, and Unnecessary

The latest issue of California Forests (Fall, ‘09), the official publication of the California Forestry Association, is entitled “Forestry Clears the Air” [here].

Some quotable quotes:

From “Cause and Effect Meet in California’s Forests” by CFA President David A. Bischel:

… California experienced a 300 percent increase in severe wildfire in 2007 and a 315 percent increase in 2008. High-intensity wildfire can sterilize soils and lead to mass-erosion that washes sediments into would-be spawning gravels for fish. They are expensive to fight, too –- taxpayers spend more than $1 billion dollars annually to fight wildfire in California and only a fraction of that to reduce fuel-loads to prevent it.

Managing more of our public forestlands can help reduce wildfire severity and mitigate the health risks that come with wildfire and smoke. Northern California registered more than 90 unhealthy-air days due to wildfire in 2008. Wildfire smoke is filled with particulates that can lodge in people’s lungs, cause asthma, aggravate heart conditions and irritates the eyes, nose and throat. It suffocates wildlife and
releases greenhouse gases like carbon monoxide and methane.

Last year, one-third of the fuel-reduction efforts planned by the U.S. Forest Service in California were blocked by activist lawsuits. High-intensity blazes that ripped through untreated areas subsequently destroyed owl nesting sites and tens of thousands of acres of wildlife habitat. They spewed great smoke plumes that settled on California communities rural and urban alike.

The Forest Service spends about 40 percent of its resources on administrative planning, litigation and appeals. Harvesting on California’s federal lands has decreased 90 percent in the last 20 years while firefighting costs have skyrocketed and our state has become increasingly dependent on imported wood.

While litigation has tied up our public lands, forests and the infrastructure to take care of them have taken a beating. In southern Sierra forests, for every tree growing, nearly three are dying. More than 500 trees per acre often stand where roughly 50 did before the Gold Rush and 8 million acres are at “very high” risk of severe wildfire. …

From “Does Anyone Care About Our Air?” by Rod Mendes, director for the Office of Emergency Services for the Hoopa Valley Tribe in Humboldt County, California. Full text [here].

For nearly four months last summer, thousands of Northern Californians sat shrouded in thick, brown smoke. Lots of people got sick. Many still have trouble breathing.

Smoke from wildfires that burned more than 200,000 acres blanketed Trinity and Humboldt counties and smothered roughly 4,000 people who live on and around the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation.

No tribal lands burned, but lightning strikes ignited fires all over the national forests that surround Hoopa land. Those forests were dangerously overgrown, overstocked and choked with dead and dying trees. There was little effort made to extinguish the fires despite the public health threat. Instead, fires were encouraged to burn toward and into designated wilderness areas.

The smoke observed no such boundaries. It settled everywhere. …

From “Southern California’s Urban Forest Hazard” by Richard Minnich, Ph.D., professor in the department of earth sciences at the University of California - Riverside.

… Lake Arrowhead is one ill-timed fire and wind event from losing 30,000 homes, millions of trees and exposing more than 100,000 people to horribly unhealthy air. Idyllwild and Big Bear are in similar danger, embedded in overgrown forests that stand shockingly dead and dry.

Our forests have tripled in density and sprouted cities. They’ve endured drought, insect infestation and fire-suppression practices that prevented natural clearing of the forest floor. Picture 200-foot flames fanned by fullon Santa Ana winds ripping through an urban forest where you can drive a mile and not see a living tree to grasp the scale of loss should fire meet severe weather here any time soon.

Clearly we must reduce forest fuel loads to lessen the threat to life, property and environmental resources. Many forests stand choked with hundreds of trees per acre where 40-50 trees per acre once stood. There are not enough nutrients or water to go around. Trees become prone to insect infestation and die. They become big, dry match sticks.

Of course, these tinderbox forests face uniquely Southern California challenges. The infrastructure to thin forests, for instance, is virtually nonexistent in the area. The land-ownership dynamic -– lots of individually owned parcels surrounded by national forestland -– complicates matters. Even the mix of chaparral and conifer forests is quintessentially Southern California.

The region needs a solution that prioritizes community protection and returns historic, open forests to Southern California’s landscape. Today’s forests look nothing like forests here did 200 years ago, when large, widely spaced pines and fir dominated the landscape. …

From “Fire on the Landscape” by Christopher Dicus, Ph.D., professor of fire and fuels management in the natural resources management department at Cal Poly State University — San Luis Obispo.

Fire is a natural part of California’s forest ecosystems. Or is it?

Fire has historically helped shape millions of acres of California forestland. But there is a vast difference between high-intensity and low-intensity fire events; between what Californians experience today and what European settlers encountered here.

California recently has witnessed a dramatic increase in large, high-severity wildfires, which will likely continue unabated unless steps are taken to address the unprecedented fuel loads that clutter both public and private forestlands. This is a Herculean challenge given that more than 8 million acres are at very high risk of severe wildfire, budgets continue to be strained, and infrastructure to support fuel reduction efforts is in decline.

Historically, frequent low-intensity fires set by native people or lightning-strikes helped clear many California forests of debris and prevented excessive fuel accumulations. These fires moved slowly across the forest floor, burning pine needles, grass and fallen branches. Flames generally one- to three-feet high had little effect on mature trees, flaring up only occasionally to open small gaps, which helped to regenerate forests and sustain them long-term.

High-intensity fires such as the 2007 Angora Fire or the 2008 Uncles Complex can race through treetops with 200-foot flames and scorching heat that destroys organic material in soils, consumes seed-sources and can turn what was once forests into vast shrub fields for decades. These fires can create their own weather and propel embers a mile or more away, which start new “spot” fires and thwart firefighter efforts. …

From “How Forests Can Clean the Air Even Better” by Thomas A. Cahill, Ph.D., professor emeritus of physics and atmospheric sciences at the University of California - Davis, past director of the Institute of Ecology, and current head of the DELTA Group. He has conducted air-quality studies in the Lake Tahoe Basin for 35 years.

Have you ever seen a smoky haze over a mountain lake in the morning followed by clear skies all afternoon? Or seen a mile-high smoke plume stretch toward the horizon?

Only one of these scenarios occurred with any degree of regularity in historic Sierra Nevada forests. The other happens all too frequently today because California’s forests have become overgrown with unprecedented fuel loads.

The air-quality dynamic playing out in the Tahoe Basin differs dramatically from pre-Gold Rush-era experiences. Historically, flames and smoke as intense as those experienced during the 2007 Angora fire and 2002 Star fire were rare. Only a recent accumulation of forest fuels has made catastrophic wildfire a near-annual reality in the Sierra. But if we were to combine what we have learned about forest management and wildfire behavior with what urban forestry has revealed, we may solidify a blueprint to restore thousands of acres of forestland and improve air quality across the West.

Learning from history Historic Tahoe forests were far less dense than the national forestland that presently covers most of the Basin and Sierra Nevada. When fire struck pre-Gold Rush California, flames generally stayed low to the ground and smoke mingled among the trees. Leaves and needles cleaned the air as the smoke lingered and as winds picked up through the day, the smoke layer dissipated.

Researchers have found that in the pre-European settlement Tahoe Basin fires burned about 35 acres every day each summer. While that would have put a thin layer of smoke over the lake each morning, it would not have violated today’s stringent air-quality regulations. Smoke levels from wildfires like the Angora fire are often 10 to 60 times greater than Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. …

And more. Please click [here] to download the entire Fall ‘09 issue of California Forests.

21 Oct 2009, 12:06pm
by bear bait

Academics: all talk and no action, and when the chips are on the table, they go all enviro and work to stop any fuel removal. Empty rhetoric. Heard it all before. Nobody does a thing about it except fund the Greenies to sue to stop any and activity on public lands. The public lands future, their fate, their end game, is glass, charcoal, and fouled air. There is not the political will to change a thing. So live with it, folks, because fire is what you really want. It is exciting, sells newspapers and is easy news for television, with great visuals.



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