"Fire suppression has caused a change in forest structure, and that change is interacting with changes in climate, to drive mortality," says Stevens. But the story gets a bit more complicated still, because it's rarely thirst itself that kills the trees.
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Temperatures are rising and forest fires, already larger and more frequent than the historical norm, are projected to increase dramatically with anthropogenic warming. But a study released last week found an influence on past fire activity even greater than climate: human beings. The way humans have used land in the Sierra has had more effect on fire behavior than climate change.
Current U.S. forest fire policy emphasizes short-term outcomes versus long-term goals. This perspective drives managers to focus on the protection of high-valued resources, whether ecosystem-based or developed infrastructure, at the expense of forest resilience. Given these current and future challenges posed by wildland fire and because the U.S. Forest Service spent >50% of its budget on fire suppression in 2015, a review and reexamination of existing policy is warranted. One of the most difficult challenges to revising forest fire policy is that agency organizations and decision making processes are not structured in ways to ensure that fire management is thoroughly considered in management decisions.
California’s fire season hasn’t turned out to be as bad as some feared this year. Stephens says today there’s actually a fire deficit.
Sierra Nevada forests are adapted to low-intensity fires that clear the underbrush and prevent trees from getting too dense. After a century of fire suppression, many forests are overgrown, which can make catastrophic fires worse.
Fire suppression in many dry forest types has left a legacy of dense, homogeneous forests. Such landscapes have high water demands and fuel loads, and when burned can result in catastrophically large fires. These characteristics are undesirable in the face of projected warming and drying in the western US. Alternative forest and fire treatments based on managed wildfire—a regime in which fires are allowed to burn naturally and only suppressed under defined management conditions—offer a potential strategy to ameliorate the effects of fire suppression. Understanding the long-term effects of this strategy on vegetation, water, and forest resilience is increasingly important as the use of managed wildfire becomes more widely accepted. Managed wildfire appears to increase landscape heterogeneity, and likely improves resilience to disturbances, such as fire and drought, although more detailed analysis of fire effects on basin-scale hydrology is needed.
Climate change from human activity nearly doubled the area that burned in forest fires in the American West over the past 30 years, a major new scientific study has found, and larger, more intense fires are all but guaranteed in the years ahead.
On a bone-dry day in August 2013, Kate Wilkin and her fellow fire science students ventured into the dense Stanislaus National Forest in the western Sierra Nevada. They scrambled over roots and fallen trees to identify pines and firs, measure their sizes, and gauge their fuel potential for wildfires.
If you think it’s been a fiery year, we’re only just getting started.
Since January, the number of fires threatening areas guarded by California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has jumped roughly 23 percent compared to the five-year average. Their size has grown, too, by nearly 90 percent, according to data released by the agency.
Judging strictly by recent headlines, you might think this is an epic fire season; a “grim beginning to California fire season,” with conflagrations “raining fire from the sky,” as recent reports have characterized it. In fact, this year is on par with last year and not too far askew from longer-term averages, says fire scientist Scott Stephens.
Blame the increase in frequency and severity of wildfires in California on drought and climate change. As the number of fires goes up each year, so does the costs of suppression.
As a large fire forced evacuations this week near Los Angeles, experts pointed out that wildfires in the United States are now more destructive and dangerous than ever.
Two wildfires — which both broke out out Friday— scorched through Monterey County and Santa Clarita Valley, putting both areas in a state of emergency Tuesday as firefighters battle to contain the blaze.
Central coastal California's first major wildfire of the season continued to rage eastward on Wednesday through this parched mountain wilderness, sparking anxiety among the residents of the picturesque Carmel Highlands, Carmel Valley and nameless canyons and ridge tops in this rugged Eden.
On Wednesday, the first residents of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada were allowed to return to their homes after a month of wildfires burned through 1.4 million acres of forest and caused 80,000 people to evacuate.
Aerial attack for the Rim Fire cost $11 million - Center co-director Bill Stewart asks: 'What's the cost-effectiveness of these drops?'
"As much of the American West gets warmer and drier, wildfire season is getting longer, busier, and more frightening. But fire, unlike other natural hazards, is still widely considered an enemy to be defeated, rather than a fact of life that must be accepted. As Max Moritz, a fire ecologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and the lead author of a review paper published today in Nature, puts it, “To reduce flood damage, we make floodplain maps. To reduce earthquake damage, we form earthquake commissions. When it comes to fire, we hand everything over to the firefighters.”
via UC Berkeley News Center
"In late July, UC Berkeley fire ecologist Scott Stephens was working in Stanislaus National Forest, gathering data on how a century had altered its character. What he saw were the signs of a clear and present danger."
Scott Stephens is co-director of the Center for Fire Research and Outreach.
via California Magazine:
"As the U.S. Forest Service finalizes plans to restore forests torched in last year’s Yosemite-area Rim Fire—the third largest in state history—conservationists are worried that the scheme skimps on environmental protection. Also concerned is one of the state’s top forestry experts, a UC Berkeley professor who warns that replanting trees the traditional way will simply sow the seeds for the next conflagration."
"Property owners in southern and central California were cited 5,076 times during the past three fiscal years for not doing enough to clear their properties and protect their homes from wildfires. During the same period, just eight such citations were issued in all of Northern California, and all of those came in a single year in Tehama and Glenn counties."
Conditions are perfect for celebrating this Fourth of July: It's sunny, warm, dry, and a great way to start a three-day weekend. But did you know these conditions are also ideal for wildfire?
Did you also know that 90% of wildfires in the US are started by humans?
Here are six tips you can use to help keep fire-safe this season!
One of the more exciting things I have opportunity to do as a wildland fire scientist is traveling and learning about fire in other countries, cultures, and ecosystems. This summer I find myself in Australia, home to one of the five Mediterranean-type ecosystems in the world.
- Scott Stephens, Co-Director, UC Berkeley Center for Fire Research & Outreach as part of his Fulbright Fellowship in Perth, AU
From KQED: The wildfires raging in San Diego County are raising statewide concern over what is shaping up to be a dangerous fire season. We'll get an update on the situation in Southern California and discuss the best ways to reduce fire risk.
- Bill Stewart, co-director of the UC Berkeley Center for Fire Research and Outreach
- Erik Anderson, staff reporter for KPBS