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.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today that the U.S. Forest Service has identified an additional 36 million dead trees across California since its last aerial survey in May 2016. This brings the total number of dead trees since 2010 to over 102 million on 7.7 million acres of California's drought stricken forests.
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.
New research from Scott Stephens, Brandon Collins, Eric Biber, and Peter Fule
After a three-year, on-the-ground assessment of the park’s Illilouette Creek basin, UC Berkeley researchers concluded that a strategy dating to 1973 of managing wildfires with minimal suppression and almost no preemptive, so-called prescribed burns has created a landscape more resistant to catastrophic fire, with more diverse vegetation and forest structure and increased water storage, mostly in the form of meadows in areas cleared by fires.
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.
William Stewart, PhD Forestry Specialist, Co-Director of the Center for Forestry & Center for Fire Research and Outreach, and other eight other scientists came together to write this commentary for the initiative that supported the inclusion of forest biomass issues in the proposed FY2017 Interior Appropriations bill.