Wednesday, January 10, 2018

There is No "NO-FIRE" Option

Photo by McNair Evans

At the recent Cohesive Strategy meeting in New Mexico, I heard several of our members say the time has come for people to understand that there is no longer a "no-fire" option.  Equally as true, there is no "no-smoke" option either. 

In a recent article by Zach St. George, he shares a detailed account of California's fire history and the sobering reality that as a society we must understand there is a need to return fire to the landscape in order to avoid the catastrophic results of fire and smoke we are experiencing now.  

Holding up the 2017 fire season as a vision of the future, St. George says, many are arguing for a change in tactics in the long war against fire. Full fire suppression is not the answer. 

In suppressing fire, we have only made a trade, swapping more frequent, less dangerous fires for less frequent, more dangerous fire. It's time to trade back. 

Not an easy task however, thanks to expanding population growth into areas once frequented by small, helpful fires. While using prescribed fires to treat landscapes is gaining more support,  smoke from these fires, even if it's less of an impact than wildfire smoke, is still hotly contested by the public and air regulatory agencies.  

Still, there is no "no-smoke" choice either. In support of this reality, the US Forest Service (Region 5) and Sierra Forest Legacy signed an MOU in which they agreed to "increase public education and awareness in support of ecologically sensitive and economically efficient vegetation management activities, including prescribed fire, forest thinning and other fuel treatment projects." Following their lead, 22 other parties joined the memorandum including Cal Fire, the National Park Service, the BLM, the Sierra Club and several regional air quality management boards.  

Mr. St. George notes, "with the aftermath of prescribed fire on one side and fire suppression on the other, it seems like an easy choice...capable of righting many of the wrongs of fire suppression."

An easy choice yes, but implementation of a widespread prescribed fire program will take years. Cal Fire aims to treat 20,000 of its 31 million acres within its responsibility area, and more into the future.  This is a drastic improvement over years of burning only 2-3,000 acres, but it regularly burned 60,000+ acres as recently as the 1980s. Baby steps. 

The Cohesive Strategy is a strong supporter of returning fire to the landscape where possible as part of an all hands, all lands approach to changing the devastating trajectory we are on. 

Read St. George's full article here.


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