Misinformation about California Wildfires
from those who should know better
As non-native grasslands and low-growing California sage scrub were being consumed by fires in Orange County this week, in areas that had burned a decade before, USA Today provided a solution – we need to manage these “forests” better and regularly burn off all that “fuel” that keeps accumulating. And they appropriated Native American culture to support the idea (Fig. 1).
The contrast between reality and what USA Today portrays is stunning.
Let’s take a look at the fire suppressed, mismanaged forest USA Today suggests needs more fire.
What has actually been suppressed is the ability and interest to question, to discover the truth.Read More
As with the Creek Fire, logging, habitat clearance, and the creation of forest plantations by private corporations and the US Forest Service in the northern Sierra Nevada Bear Fire area are making the fire worse, and threatening lives as a result.
The Bear Fire area has been heavily logged over the past couple of decades – clearcuts, commercial thinning, “salvage” logging of snags, spreading flammable, invasive weeds, mostly on private lands but also quite a bit on national forest land too.
The Bear Fire dramatically expanded Wednesday (9/9) when it got to the massive area of heavy logging shown below. Importantly, these clearcut areas are similar to the types of “fuel reduction” projects Cal Fire and the US Forest Service continually claim will allow them to control a fire and protect communities. Time and time again, when it matters most, they don’t – please see map of Vegetation Management Projects/Fires in California at the end of this post.
The Bear Fire is now over 200,000 acres (mostly from Wednesday), and at least three people have been killed (see perimeter map below). This situation is very much like the Camp Fire in terms of the direct threat of recent logging to lives and homes, by contributing, along with the dominant force of extreme weather and climate change, to very rapid rate of fire spread, giving people little time to evacuate.
None of this is being seriously discussed in the leading media stories on the current fires.
The Main Take Aways
“In the long term, California must address its history of mismanaging fire, the expansion of residential communities into natural areas, the greed and misplaced priorities of corporations, and the pumping of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. We must also we acknowledge that not all wildfires burn in the forest. Wildfires are also burning through shrubland across Southern California and the oak woodlands that stretch across the state. In all environments, the best way to protect communities from wildfire is to focus on the communities themselves.”
– Senator Kamala Harris
More about how to make your home and community fire safe.
The Facts About Logged Forests
“Areas intensively managed burned in the highest intensities. Areas protected in national parks and wilderness areas burned in lower intensities. Plantations burn hotter in a fire than native forests do. We know this from numerous studies based on peer-reviewed science.”*
– Dominick DellaSala
From: Exploring Solutions to Reduce Risks of Catastrophic Wildfire and Improve Resilience of National Forests. Congressional testimony by Dr. Dominick DellaSala, Sept. 27, 2017.
* The research cited above analyzed 1,500 fires in 11 Western states over four decades – an overwhelming convergence of evidence. Some of those studies include the following:
1. Odion et al. 2004. Fire severity patterns and forest management in the Klamath National Forest, northwest California, USA. Cons. Biol. 18:927-936.
2. Zald, H., and C. Dunn. 2018. Severe fire weather and intensive forest management increase fire severity in a multi-ownership landscape. Ecol. Applic. 4:1068-1080.
3. Bradley, C.M., et al. 2016. Does increased forest protection correspond to higher fire severity in frequent-fire forests of the western United States? Ecosphere 7:1-13.
217 scientists sign letter opposing logging as a response to wildfires (we are signatories).