forest fires

=land management =forests

 

 

Climate patterns have shifted due to global warming. Higher ocean temperatures increase water evaporation, but higher coastal temperatures reduce precipitation, causing rain to shift further inland.

The forest fires recently seen in California, Oregon, and southwest Canada could well happen every year. They could well get even worse. When a forest burns, more-flammable species tend to be more evolutionarily adapted to regrowth after a fire, and what grows tends to be more flammable.


The solution is as simple as it is politically impossible:
Remove flammable stuff and plant less-flammable stuff.

Options for less-flammable trees to plant in that region include ponderosa pine, monterey cypress, and coast live oak.

 

 

I can already hear people saying:

"actually, preventing forest fires is bad and makes fires worse"
"actually, logging and thinning just makes things worse"

 

The overall amount of fires and smoke has been greatly reduced for a century compared to both now and a millenium ago, so saying that efforts at forest and fire management are futile in the long-term is empirically false. The real objection is to any human intervention.

That ideology exists to the extent that in some cases, scientific studies and government officials can't be trusted. People who want to believe something will sometimes cite a single flawed or misunderstood study, other studies will cite that one study for the desired (but wrong) result and confidently proclaim it as an assumption, media will report that because "there are studies" so it must be correct, people will tell their coworkers that because they heard it from other coworkers, and thus something with no basis can become "scientifically backed" common knowledge of some group. (That's basically what happened with, for example, the CDC insisting that COVID-19 was "NOT airborne" and some people saying "building more highways actually increases traffic congestion".)

Yes, if trees are removed, and then small trees and bushes grow back, then what grows back can be more flammable. But trees that are removed can't burn. If more-flammable stuff grows back after clearing, the solution is to plant less-flammable stuff. Note that the objections to removing trees aren't even consistent: logging is supposedly unhelpful because small trees are more flammable, but if you propose thinning a forest, removing small and more-flammable trees, then that's supposedly unhelpful too. Selectively removing old trees? Young trees? Certain species? No matter what you propose, some people will say it's actually counterproductive and the opposite is better, and then if you later propose the opposite, many of the same people will object to that too.

Yes, more frequent fires can reduce the size of forest fires, but they increase the total amount of fire. Biomass growth per year increases when trees are cleared, and trees that fall and rot instead of burning don't make smoke. Burning wood makes smoke, and the amount of smoke is not affected by whether a fire was started intentionally. Deliberate fires can be a method of protecting specific populated areas, but are not effective as a method of reducing overall smoke generation. Smoke from burning structures can be worse than smoke from burning trees, but anyone citing a paper finding that to argue that unintentional fires make worse smoke than intentional ones is being disingenuous.


We know how much logging costs. We know how much it costs other forestry departments to clear brush. With some adjustments for rough terrain, clearing and replanting the entire flammable area of California might be around $10 billion, burying the cleared material and not including any income from lumber.

It's not necessary to do that much. Cutting wide firebreaks to divide every flammable area and replanting less-flammable trees in those would mostly eliminate forest fires. The process of replacing flammable species with less-flammable species and creating smaller divisions could continue gradually after that. And at least some of the material could be sold, which offsets costs.


When the US Forest Service wants to remove some trees in California, lawsuits (eg 1 2 3 4 5) stop them. Eucalyptus trees are non-native and very flammable, but some people who grew up with them and don't want them removed.

Basically, California will not do what's needed to prevent forest fires without outside pressure. Luckily, we already have precedent for outside pressure: the 2019 threatened sanctions against Brazil. (By the way, at the time, there were many more fires in the Amazon than usual as counted by satellites, but they were mostly small, and the total burned area was slightly below average.)

 

So, I have a simple proposal:

1) Brazil and some European governments threaten sanctions against California for the contribution of its forest fires towards global warming.
2) The US federal government amends the Clean Air Act to cover smoke from forest fires.
3) Other US states sue the government of California for a trillion dollars over health and economic damages.

 

 



back to index