Fire spreads in Placerita Canyon at the Sand Fire on July 24, 2016 in Santa Clarita, California. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images
In California, Gov. Jerry Brown’s office recently held the first in what’s expected to be a series of private meetings with scientists, conservationists and fire professionals to discuss how to prevent massive blazes in the face of climate change and prolonged drought.
The state’s ongoing epidemic of dead or dying trees — the latest count is more than 66 million — has stoked fears about increased wildfires, but scientists and state officials agreed the dead wood may not be the threat many believe.
“This unfortunate event is galvanizing us to have these conversations,” said Ken Pimlott, director of Cal Fire and the state’s forester.
He agrees with an emerging body of science that has found dead trees don’t significantly increase the likelihood of wildfires.
“Something across the board everyone is agreeing on is use of fire, whether it’s prescribed fire or natural fire,” Pimlott added. “Either way, putting fire back on the landscape in a managed, controlled setting to mimic wildland fire is key.”
While science suggests that more wildfires would benefit forests, it can be a hard policy to adopt for political and social reasons, said Malcolm North, research forest ecologist with the Forest Service and an affiliate professor with UC Davis.
Instead of cutting down significant numbers of dead trees, California’s forests would be better served by allowing more wildfires to burn — a process that creates valuable habitat for certain plants and animals.