Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Forest Managers: We’re Just Making Wildfires Worse

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What do you call it when the correct course of action is quite well known and understood, but the wrong course of action is continually followed? Stupidity? Insanity? Irresponsibility?

Michael Byrne provides an excellent example in Motherboard:

It’s an old warning, but one that’s become only more prescient as wildfires increasingly become a foreground fact of life in the United States: Forest fires should be managed, not vanquished.

To be sure, the US Forest Service and other agencies have gotten better at this over the past couple of decades, most visibly through controlled burn programs. But, as a panel of land managers and researchers from several Western states argue in this week’s issue of Science, fire management reforms have still largely failed: 98 percent of the time, wildfires are suppressed before they reach 120 hectares (12,000 acres) in size and have had little chance to consume fuel.

The reason is simple enough and has nothing to do with policy. Putting out small fires is cheap.

But killing fires when they’re tiny serves a single purpose—putting out a tiny fire. There’s no consideration of the larger wildfire regime, and where a small fire might have grown to consume some of the vast stockpiles of dead wood clogging up mismanaged forests, it remains ready to burn another day. More fuel accumulates on top of it. And more and more and more.

Eventually, a fire event occurs that is not among those 98 percent of fires. This is a cataclysmic wildfire storm of the sort we’re watching this week in California as the Valley and Butte fires continue on their 150,000 acre reigns of terror. When fuel is left to accumulate for years and years, there is pretty much only one possible outcome.

Quashing small fires is a delaying tactic in the same sense that ignoring a cancer symptom is a delaying tactic. It’s a dangerous illusion.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 September 2015 at 1:42 pm

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