- Author: John Hickey
Reposted from the UC Berkeley News
Eight months after the Camp Fire consumed the Northern California town of Paradise and was pronounced the deadliest wildfire in state history, California is facing the potential in the coming months for more death and destruction.
Scott Stephens, a UC Berkeley professor of fire science, says the heavy rains of February and March have left California grasslands with perhaps twice as much burnable fuel as this time a year ago.
“Most of the time, you'd have one ton of dry mass per acre, and right now it's about double that,” Stephens, who has spent a quarter century in Berkeley working on fire behavior, fire ecology and forest policy, says. “I would expect grassland fires to be more intense and move around more quickly because of that.
“All that dry grassland will be responsive to sparks and flying burning embers. The fuel load will increase flame lengths. Once the grasslands start to burn, they could produce more embers themselves, since they have higher fuel loads.”
Stephens says California could help itself greatly by following the Australian model of fire prevention, where there is regular governmental outreach to people who live in fire-prone areas.
That's one reason he's a keen booster for Senate Bill 462, which is currently under consideration in Sacramento. One segment of the bill calls for the development of a group of outreach advisors who could be in the field long before a firestorm, giving advice about fire issues to those most likely to need it.
“This is not an average year,” he says. “The grasslands in some places are twice as tall as normal. That makes fire prevention more challenging, particularly at the urban wildland interface,” where homes are built on or adjacent to fire-prone lands.
“In general,” he adds, “the state has not done well to engage people and acquaint them with their vulnerabilities.”
“The UC Extension programs across the state have been doing this kind of thing in agriculture for 50 years,” Stephens says. “These are people who live in the counties most impacted and who can make a difference. We should be taking some inspiration from Australia and do the outreach about fire within communities and city councils.”
Stephens has spoken several times in Sacramento on behalf of SB 462, calling it “a critical program for the state to move forward.” The Camp Fire, and the Carr and the Tubbs fires that preceded it, may have gotten California out of a legislative quagmire concerning fire, although it's an open question whether or not the legislature will ever get a bill to Gov. Gavin Newsom's desk.
“In my two years doing this, I've never seen the state do what has been done the last two years,” Stephens says. “Both the legislature and the governor are moving into fire areas, trying to understand things better. This bill came out of the education committee in the Senate and got the support of a lot of environmental committees.”
As originally written, the bill's funding would have been $20 million. Once the bill arrived in the appropriations committee, however, that figure was reduced to $1 million, and the bill currently is awaiting consideration by the Assembly Natural Resources Committee.
Stephens says the funding cut would mean only two or three people could be hired to do the kind of outreach he envisions across the state. The original funding would have seen the hiring of perhaps 15.
Wildfire season in California has typically run from mid-summer through late autumn, although the last two seasons have stretched that. Stephens says getting ahead of the wildfire season would include, in addition to outreach, the passage of Senate Bill 462 and a concerted effort to mow or trim the dried grasslands.
“We need to see what is happening,” Stephens says. “Right now, the people who are dying in these fires are the elderly, the vast majority of whom are over 65. These are people who are not as mobile and who don't have the same resources. They are the ones who need this outreach.”
- Posted By: Jaime Adler
- Written by: Rick Standiford, Susie Kocher, Mike De Lasaux, Jaime Adler
Recently three leaders from the Taiwan Forestry Research Institute (TFRI), a division of Tawain’s Council of Agriculture (COA), traveled to Northern California to meet with UCCE foresters to gain information about our outreach program that they might be able to apply in Taiwan. Dr. Yue-Hsing “Star” Huang, Director of TFRI; Dr. Meng-Ling Wu, Department Chief of Forest Protection; Dr. Gene-Sheng Tung, Assistant Researcher in the Department of Forest Protection spent three days at UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley’s Blodgett Forest Research Station, South Lake Tahoe, and in Quincy and Plumas Counties exploring extension projects and learning how UCCE Foresters initiate and maintain relationships with landowners, managers, conservation groups, and policy makers.
TFRI is composed of 6 research centers across Taiwan and employs over 120 scientists and over 200 staff and technicians. Taiwan has rich ecosystems in a tropical climate, with over 55% of their island covered by forests. TFRI is specifically focused in conducting research on new management practices, sustainable forestry, consulting, and operating several example forests and botanical gardens. 99.8% of Taiwan’s timber is currently imported because of the country’s strict management policies, so TFRI is particularly focused on successful management techniques to harvest their own timber and boost their economy.
In addition, with over 50,000 species in Taiwan, TFRI is interested in researching biology and has an impressive database of species, as well as a forest tree seed bank. The scientists and researchers at TFRI are aware of the need to not only focus on research, but also develop an extension program that would allow them to share their research and educate others.
While in Berkeley, the visitors from TFRI had an opportunity to meet with UCCE Forest Pathology Specialist Matteo Garbelotto, and learned about forestry issues from forestry specialists Rick Standiford and Bill Stewart. They also learned about funding and administration of research and extension from the Dean of the College of Natural Resources, Keith Gilless. Standiford and Stewart showed the three TFRI scientists about the Center for Forestry’s Blodgett Forest Research Station in Eldorado County, looking at long-term research databases, the philosophy of research forest administration, as well as specific programs on forest health, fuel reduction, and alternative silvicultural regimes.
Field visits had a special emphasis on the altered fire regime in the Sierra Nevada and how the University of California’s research and extension arms are working together to address this pressing issue.
In South Lake Tahoe, CE Forest Advisor Susie Kocher hosted the Taiwanese foresters. They discussed how forest science and forest policy interact with staff at the Tahoe Conservancy, visited the 2007 Angora fire, and visited forest fuels reduction projects. They seemed to particularly enjoy seeing the ample snow in the high country.
While in Plumas County the visiting foresters examined community fuel reduction projects conducted by the Plumas County Fire Safe Council that have been monitored by Cooperative Extension Advisor Mike De Lasaux. They were also given a tour of the Sierra Pacific Industries mill in Quincy.
We are hopeful that this visit will enhance the collaboration between California forest research and extension programs and Taiwanese forest scientists.