Sunday, September 13, 2020

They Know How to Prevent Megafires. Why Won’t Anybody Listen?

They Know How to Prevent Megafires. Why Won’t Anybody Listen? Elizabeth Weil Aug. 28, 1010.

Academics believe that between 4.4 million and 11.8 million acres burned each year in prehistoric California. Between 1982 and 1998, California’s agency land managers burned, on average, about 30,000 acres a year. Between 1999 and 2017, that number dropped to an annual 13,000 acres. The state passed a few new laws in 2018 designed to facilitate more intentional burning. But few are optimistic this, alone, will lead to significant change. We live with a deathly backlog. In February 2020, Nature Sustainability published this terrifying conclusion: California would need to burn 20 million acres — an area about the size of Maine — to restabilize in terms of fire.


[...] When I reached Malcolm North, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service who is based in Mammoth, California, and asked if there was any meaningful scientific dissent to the idea that we need to do more controlled burning, he said, “None that I know of.”


When asked how we were doing on closing the gap between what we need to burn in California and what we actually light, Goulette fell into the familiar fire Cassandra stutter. “Oh gosh. … I don’t know. …” The QFR acknowledged there was no way prescribed burns and other kinds of forest thinning could make a dent in the risk imposed by the backlog of fuels in the next 10 or even 20 years. “We’re at 20,000 acres a year. We need to get to a million. What’s the reasonable path toward a million acres?” Maybe we could get to 40,000 acres, in five years. But that number made Goulette stop speaking again. “Forty thousand acres? Is that meaningful?” That answer, obviously, is no.

Check also Barriers and enablers for prescribed burns for wildfire management in California. Rebecca K. Miller, Christopher B. Field & Katharine J. Mach. Nature Sustainability volume 3, pages101–109 (2020). Jan 20 2020.
Abstract: Prescribed burns to reduce fuel can mitigate the risk of catastrophic wildfires. However, multiple barriers limit their deployment, resulting in their underutilization, particularly in forests. We evaluate sociopolitical barriers and opportunities for greater deployment in California, an area recurrently affected by catastrophic fires. We use a mixed-methods approach combining expert interviews, state legislative policy analysis and prescribed-burn data from state records. We identify three categories of barriers. Risk-related barriers (fear of liability and negative public perceptions) prevent landowners from beginning the burn planning process. Both resource-related barriers (limited funding, crew availability and experience) and regulations-related barriers (poor weather conditions for burning and environmental regulations) prevent landowners from conducting burns, creating a gap between planning and implementation. Recent policies have sought to address mainly risk-related challenges, although these and regulations-related challenges remain. Fundamental shifts in prescribed-burn policies, beyond those currently under consideration, are needed to address wildfires in California and worldwide.

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