SACRAMENTO, Calif. – In advancing the Department of the Interior’s commitment to bolster adaption and increase resilience to climate change, the Bureau of Land Management today released its Camp Fire Reforestation Plan. The plan, developed by the BLM and American Forests, outlines management goals, assesses potential climate impacts to the Camp Fire burn scar, and uses adaptation strategies and approaches to promote forest recovery.
The Camp Fire Reforestation Plan will improve forest health and resilience, enabling ecosystems to better withstand environmental stressors and recover from disturbances; reduce hazardous fuels and increase community safety; improve wildlife habitat and riparian/wetland functionality; improve plant community diversity and forest structural diversity; identify feasible, cost-effective strategies and plans that can be maintained long term; and protect soils by reducing sedimentation, preventing erosion and promoting a vegetation community that will stabilize soils.
“When it comes to reforestation, we have to use all the climate-smart tools in the toolbox,” said American Forests California State Director Britta Dyer. “To do so, land managers need to be willing to work across jurisdictions and look at a fire scar for what it truly is, a shared responsibility. The BLM had the foresight to be inclusive in that this plan not only restores BLM lands, but it has downstream benefits to all impacted by the devastating Camp Fire.”
“This plan will assist foresters who are implementing recovery actions to the burn scar, such as tree planting and managing vegetation,” said BLM California State Forester Coreen Francis. “The BLM and American Forests engaged stakeholders from private industry, the community, research scientists, and other agencies in developing the plan and formulating the suite of actions needed for long-term forest recovery.”
The 2018 Camp Fire burned more than 153,000 acres, killed 85 people and destroyed more than 18,000 structures in Butte County, California. Approximately 4,070 acres of BLM managed lands burned during the fire, and 36 percent of this area (1,400 acres) burned at high severity.
The BLM is at the forefront of developing adaptation strategies to climate change, and this climate planning process will help guide forest management into the future. American Forests is a national conservation organization established in 1875 to work with partners to build healthy and resilient forests in urban and rural landscapes.
The plan was written to be used by agencies, private landowners, or other entities that may be facing similar questions about how to adapt and increase resilience to climate change. A copy of the Camp Fire Reforestation Plan can be found at https://www.blm.gov/programs/natural-resources/forests-and-woodlands, or https://www.americanforests.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/BLM_CampPlan.pdf.
“Florida has done prescribed burns on more than 1.6 million acres so far this year. California has only burned around 35,000 acres. The state is 2.5 times larger than Florida.”
By Lauren Sommer
In early May, flames began to spread through a pine forest, consuming a dense carpet of leaves and underbrush. The burn was the definition of a “good fire,” intentionally ignited to clear vegetation that could fuel future infernos.
It happened in the state leading the nation in controlled burns: Florida.
As Western states contend with increasingly catastrophic wildfires, some are looking to the Southeastern U.S., where prescribed fire is widespread thanks to policies put in place decades ago. From 1998 to 2018, 70% of all controlled burning in the country was in the Southeast.
While a continent apart, both regions have a similar need for fire. For thousands of years, forests and woodlands experienced regular burning, both sparked by lightning and used by Native American tribes, which prevented the build up of flammable growth. Without fire, the landscape is prone to intense, potentially devastating wildfires.
Despite that risk, Western states have struggled to expand the use of controlled burns. This month, the U.S. Forest Service suspended them because of the extensive fires burning in record-dry conditions.
Now, several Western states are moving to adopt the fire policies pioneered by Florida and other Southern states as a hedge against the future. They include training problems for burn leaders and providing liability protection for them. The bigger challenge is changing the culture around fire, so that residents know that tolerating a little smoke from good fires can help stop the destructive blazes that cloud the air for weeks.
“We have this generational gap in fire knowledge in the Western U.S. that we’re trying to rebuild now,” says Lenya Quinn-Davidson, a fire adviser for the University of California Cooperative Extension. “But Florida and the Southeast still have it.”
By Char Miller
As western wildfires burn through millions of forested acres, they are igniting debates about our response that are almost as heated as the flames themselves.
The leaders of the U.S. Forest Service have known that fire begets discord since 1905, when Gifford Pinchot became the federal agency’s first chief. Randy Moore, who was sworn in as the 20th chief on July 26, is no stranger to the conflict, after his decade-long service as the agency’s regional forester for California. Since 2017, that fire-prone state — and its many national forests — have endured its eight largest fires ever.
Despite his extensive experience, Moore probably did not expect to be burned even before assuming his new post. But he was, courtesy of a lightning-struck, smoldering pine rooted in a granite-rough ridge in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in early July.
When the fire was spotted, Forest Service personnel determined there was no immediate danger of fire spread. They would monitor it. But for the health of the forest, where fire is regenerative, and for reasons of resource management and firefighter safety, this was the kind of fire they wouldn’t move immediately to put it out.
A week later, gusting winds fanned sparks outward, and what came to be known as the Tamarack fire has been burning ever since. Although the 68,000-acre blaze now is more than 80% contained, there has been no containing the resulting fight that erupted over the initial handling of the fire.
Angry California and Nevada politicians attacked the Forest Service’s decision not to extinguish the smoking tree. On July 20, Rep. Tom McClintock demanded that the outgoing chief retract the “current U.S. Forest Service direction that allows wildfires to burn and instruct all Regional Foresters that all wildfires should be suppressed as soon as possible.”
Moore responded with a memo Aug. 2. He conceded that in a “fire year different from any before” the Forest Service should stop managing fires for “resource benefit” — that is, to improve ecosystem health — and instead suppress them. “We are in a ‘triage mode,’” he wrote, and the agency’s focus now “must be on fires that threaten communities and infrastructure.” This was, he concluded, the most “prudent course of action now in a situation that is dynamic and fluid.”
Moore’s “prudent course … now” language, however, isn’t prudent enough for some. The National Wildfire Institute, a suppression-friendly bloc of retired Forest Service officials, said the initial Tamarack decision bore the “hallmarks of criminal negligence.” “It’s time,” they wrote in a letter to Moore, “to declare that all fires will be promptly and aggressively extinguished, period.”
But other Forest Service veterans disagree, urging the new chief to reverse his Aug. 2 directive.
By Alex Fox
Last year, California’s Castle fire may have killed off ten to 14 percent of the world’s giant sequoias, reports Joshua Yeager of the Visalia Times-Delta.
The tally of dead trees comes from a new draft report that used satellite imagery, forest modelling and surveys to revise initial estimates of how many titanic trees were lost when flames ripped through parts of Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. That initial estimate was around 1,000 dead sequoias, but now scientists with the National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) suspect between 7,500 and 10,600 mature trees may have died, reports Kurtis Alexander for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Per the Chronicle, among the fallen is the planet’s ninth-largest giant sequoia, nicknamed the King Arthur tree. Sequoias can live for thousands of years and grow to more than 250 feet tall and measure 30 feet in diameter, per the Chronicle.
“The whole thing is surprising and devastating and depressing,” Christy Brigham, chief of resources management and science at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and lead author of the report, tells Alex Wigglesworth for the Los Angeles Times.
Researchers were surprised by the death toll because of how adapted to living with fire giant sequoias are. Per the LA Times, sequoia bark can be two feet thick and their cones only release their seeds to spawn the next generation when they’re toasted by low intensity fire.
Brigham tells the LA Times that losing so many mature trees to a single fire signals the fact that climate change and a century of fire suppression have rewritten the rules that once governed the sequoia’s domain.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today unveiled the new Southeast FireMap, a fire mapping tool for the Southeastern United States that enables resource managers to improve their regional or local approaches to managing wildfire risk and fire management needs through targeted prescribed burns and training. Fire management helps improve forest ecosystem health, increases timber values, reduces the risk of wildfire damage to life and property, reduces ticks and other pests, protects drinking water, and renews healthy ecosystems supporting wildlife habitat, especially in fire-dependent longleaf pine forests.
The SE FireMap version 1.0 decision support tool will map all detectable fires, including managed prescribed burns and wildfires, across nine states. The map and associated tools aim to improve fire management in urban and rural communities through remote sensing and will track both prescribed fire and wildfires throughout Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
The SE FireMap version 1.0 is a Google Earth Engine product and data sharing is available for conservation and community planning purposes. To see the mapping products or request data sharing, visit the partnerships’ Wildland Fire Portal or the SE FireMap. For more information, the Southern Fire Exchange will host a webinar on April 16, 2021. Follow this link to register.
By Amanda Peacher
In a region of Austria known as the wood quarter, a logger used a chainsaw to slice through the base of a 100-foot tall spruce tree on a recent foggy morning.
Herbert Schmid, a forester, watched from a distance as the big spruce dropped to the forest floor. Schmid handpicked that particular tree to be cut today. He manages this forest according to “close-to-nature” practices, or Pro Silva standards.
It’s an ancient technique of astute observation, low-intervention forestry that allows trees to grow and age before harvest. Forestry experts say it’s a valuable model as European forests face climate change and potentially more fires.
By James Steinbauer
The secret to fewer fires may be having more people in the state who can start them.
Scientists and land managers almost universally agree that prescribed fire is the single best tool available to help mitigate wildfire risk. Landowners in the American Southeast use more prescribed fire than in any other part of the country. But across much of the American West—which has captured an outsize proportion of the public imagination around wildfire—scientists say land management agencies aren’t using fire nearly enough.
In 2017, federal and state forest managers, ranchers, and private property owners in Florida, which many fire scientists consider the prescribed fire capital of the country, burned more than 2 million acres, according to data compiled by the nonprofit Climate Central. That same year, California—which is twice the size of Florida and has six times more acres in public land—burned less than 50,000 acres. Oregon burned 48,000, Idaho 33,000, Montana 24,000, and Nevada 5,000.
Like in Florida, Native American cultures throughout the United States used fire to manage the land. But in the West, much of the land taken from Indigenous groups was redrawn as public “forest preserves.” In the absence of Native American land management, many of the places where they had previously used fire to clear the landscape became dense and overgrown. In 1910, a series of wildfires burned more than 3 million acres of forest in Montana, Idaho, and Washington. Known collectively as the Big Blowup, the blazes spooked the nascent US Forest Service into adopting a policy that demanded all fires be put out by 10 A.M. the day after they were reported. Because much of this land was publicly owned, federal land management agencies could efficiently enforce this policy of suppression.
In southeastern states, such as Florida, where most forestland is privately owned, people simply never stopped burning it. Even the US Forest Service in the Southeast dabbled with prescribed fire—the first-ever lit on federal land was in Osceola National Forest in 1943.
By Laura Lundquist
Federal and state leaders laud not only the ability of Montanans to hash out tough issues but also the way collaboration has gotten several timber projects into production.
That was evident from the speeches of Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney and Jim Hubbard, U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary, who kicked off the Montana Forest Collaboration Network’s annual two-day workshop in Missoula.
The two men praised the efforts of Montana’s collaborative groups, represented by the 120 participants in the audience, that have put many hours into finding agreement on which forest tracts have “the right acres in the right places” to sustain commercial timber projects.
“In an age where political polarization often threatens the progress of important policy, you all quietly keep coming back to the table, year after year,” Cooney said. “You find sensible paths forward by engaging diverse local perspectives, treating one another like neighbors in advancing plans that ultimately can achieve durable returns for our forests and our communities.”
Cooney said that kind of cooperation was one reason Gov. Steve Bullock was able to make Montana the first state to sign a stewardship agreement with the U.S. Forest Service, allowing the state to negotiate with federal, tribal and private partners to thin trees or use prescribed burns regardless of who manages the area. Thus, foresters can focus on any region that might be important for reducing wildfire risk near communities. Yet, only seven other states have signed shared stewardship agreements.
Hubbard said being able to work across multiple jurisdictions is necessary to do work at a large enough scale to be effective at slowing a potential wildfire. But when it comes to wildfire, thinning projects go only so far.
“There’s no way in the world we’re going to protect all the communities that are at risk of fire in the West. There’s no way in the world we’re going to treat all the acres that need treatment. So which ones are we going to go for? That’s the shared priority, to decide what we want to do together,” Hubbard said. “Also, the community has to be engaged, because if the community isn’t paying attention, all that land treatment is not necessarily going to reduce their risk very much.”
Bullock was also among the first to sign a Good Neighbor agreement. The 2014 Farm Bill created the Good Neighbor Authority to allow states to log timber on federal land adjacent to state or private land undergoing thinning operations. The 2018 Farm Bill broadened that authority.
By Theresa Davis
BANDELIER NATIONAL MONUMENT – Pinecones hang from tree branches and scatter the forest floor near Los Alamos. At first glance, they are nothing special. But inside those cones are seeds that can help bring a forest back to life.
This year, ponderosa pine trees in New Mexico are producing more pinecones than they will for the next 10 to 15 years – an event scientists call a “mast seeding.”
The Nature Conservancy, Santa Clara Pueblo, the National Parks Service, the Institute for Applied Ecology, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and Highlands University are collecting the abundant seeds to plant in areas that have burned in severe wildfires.
The groups set a goal of gathering 1 million seeds in New Mexico and Colorado this fall, according to Sarah Hurteau, urban conservation director for the Nature Conservancy.
“Mast seeding is an evolutionary process,” she said. “In these years, trees will produce enough seeds that animals can’t eat them all, so more seeds get the chance to germinate.”
Last winter’s above-average precipitation helped make this year ideal for a mast seeding. Ponderosa pines currently have more viable seeds per cone, which means the groups get a better selection of potential trees for reforestation.
Wildfire is a natural part of the life cycle in northern New Mexico forests. Many trees need fire to germinate. But the size and severity of recent forest fires is unusual, said Kay Beeley, a natural resource manager with the National Park Service. She referenced the forest damage done by Los Conchas Fire in 2011. The blaze consumed 156,000 acres and burned for more than a month in northern New Mexico.
By Aaron Labaree
The biggest wildfire in 20 years in Spain’s Catalonia region began on June 26, when a pile of chicken manure, baking in record high temperatures, burst into flames.
Fed by strong winds, the flames spread quickly, igniting dry brush and pine forest. In three days the fire burned more than 16,000 acres, and it took more than 500 firefighters to put it out.
Fires in California and the Amazon rainforest have grabbed attention, but large areas of Europe’s forests also were consumed this summer. Blazes nearly the size of the one in Catalonia tore through Spain’s Canary Islands, the south of France and the Greek islands of Evia and Samos.
From January to mid-October, the European Union has had almost triple the average number of wildfires for the same period over the past decade, with more than 800,000 acres burned so far this year, according to the European Forest Fire Information System.
Heat waves like the ones Europe experienced in 2019 are far more likely to happen because of the changing climate. And hot, dry conditions contribute to making massive fires no longer just a southern European problem: Last year Sweden saw its biggest fires in modern history, and this year the United Kingdom had a record number of them.
Now, like in the United States, firefighters and ecologists in Europe are starting to realize that putting out each fire isn’t possible or desirable. To prevent megafires, experts say, the authorities have to let forests burn naturally — and sometimes even set fires on purpose.
“We need to learn to live with fire, the same way we do with tornadoes or snowstorms,” says Marc Castellnou, chief analyst for a special forest unit of Catalonia’s fire services, known by its Catalan initials GRAF.
The wildfire problem is partly a result of decades of prevention. Fire plays a natural role in a healthy forest, burning away brush, dead trees and plant debris, while leaving many mature trees alive. But to protect human habitation, officials have tried to allow almost no fires to burn. The result is forests that are packed with undergrowth providing kindling and enormous unbroken stocks of trees to burn — megafires waiting to happen.
Europe’s forests have reached this dangerous state for another reason not seen in the U.S.: rural abandonment.
“When I was growing up, all of this was harvest — hazelnuts and olives,” says Rut Domènech, a forest expert who lives in Ribera d’Ebre, the county in Catalonia’s Tarragona province where the recent fires took place, pointing at what is now continuous forest. In the 1950s, the price of these and other crops plummeted with international competition and farmers were forced to move to cities.
Over much of Europe, rural abandonment has led to once-cultivated fields being given back to nature. In the 50 years after World War II, Western Europe’s forest area increased almost 30%. The continent’s land is now more than 40% forested.
Mediterranean shepherds and farmers have been using fire to manage the landscape for thousands of years. But most techniques used by firefighters today were developed in the United States, where the record-setting blazes of the past 10 years have shown the limits of suppression alone. In the U.S. as well as Europe, the change in approach toward fire is just beginning.
“In the scientific community, it’s understood we need to get fire back on the landscape,” says Rod Linn, a climate modeler at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. “And most fire practitioners have come to grips with fire having a lot of benefits. But with the public, there’s work to do to get it socialized, to get people aware that just because you see smoke, it’s not necessarily bad.”