By Dr. Joseph Roise, professor, Department of Forestry and Environmental Services, North Carolina State University
Wildfires have devastated Western North Carolina in the past few months, only recently having been quelled by the work of hundreds of firefighters and well-timed rainfall. These disasters, which are often caused by humans but sometimes occur naturally, for instance those caused by a lightning strike, can have lasting implications ranging from the endangerment of flora, fauna, and human lives to the crippling of local economies that rely on tourism, to the devastating effects of erosion on newly exposed soils often resulting in floods and through loss of timber for industry and consumers. Despite the often-unpredictable path of these fires, much can be done to help prevent them. Through proactive sustainable management and maintenance of forests, foresters and partnerships between private landowners and the forestry industry play a crucial role to help reduce the risk of wildfires.Partnerships between private landowners and the forestry industry play a crucial role to help reduce the risk of wildfires
By Melissa Sevigny
The U.S. Forest Service allowed fire to burn more than 73,500 acres in northern Arizona last year. New research examines how well these “managed wildfires” restore healthy, historical conditions to ponderosa pine forests.
Scientists with Northern Arizona University’s Ecological Restoration Institute examined 10 large burned areas on the Coconino and Kaibab national forests. Ecologist David Huffman said managers allowed these areas to burn during the last decade to meet multiple restoration goals.
“Wildfire is difficult to control and manage for precise effects — sort of a blunt tool,” he said. “So we need to understand what it’s doing out there in terms of changing forest structure.”
The study found moderate-severity fires met two-thirds of the restoration goals. This was the only type of fire that restored tree density and canopy cover to historical conditions.
Fires aren’t all bad. Some fires help forests become healthier, but scientists say they’re sorely lacking in California.
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.
So forest managers are piloting a new policy designed to shift a century-old mentality about fire in the West.
The idea is to let naturally-caused fires burn when they aren’t a threat to homes or people. But actually making those decisions on the ground isn’t easy in a crowded state like California.
Changes in climate and extreme weather are already increasing challenges for forest ecosystems across the world. Many impacts are expected to remain into the future. This means forest managers, conservationists and woodland owners continually need to address climate change to ensure forests can provide a broad array of benefits and services. The USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub and the U.S. Forest Service provide tools to help address this need.
Collaboration between scientists and managers resulted in the publication Forest Adaptation Resources: Climate Change Tools and Approaches for Land Managers. This publication provides a suite of materials enabling land managers to consider the likely effects of climate change and increase the ability of forests to cope with climate change impacts.