Forestry Group Looks at Big Picture Amid California Wildfires

The California Forestry Association, which represents the state’s timber industry, says an oversaturation of trees is a big reason for the repeated wildfires in the state, and it has pledged to help thin out the forests.

Every year, it seems like wildfires in California, and their devastating impact, hit the top of the news cycle repeatedly.

And in the wake of a series of wildfires throughout the state—including the Mendocino Complex, the largest in California history, and the Carr Fire, the sixth-most destructive [PDF]—questions about whether changes need to be made to the state’s tree farms are gaining new attention.

Earlier this year, the Little Hoover Commission, an independent nonprofit watchdog in California, raised the question  with a study [PDF] that called out mismanagement of Sierra Nevada forests and suggested the recent attention the issue has received opens up the possibility for change.

“The opportunity should not be lost. Proactive forest management practices recommended by the commission gradually will rebuild healthy high-country forests that store more water, resist new insect infestations, and check the speed and intensity of wildfires,” wrote Pedro Nava, the chair of the commission, in the report.

This stance appears to be shared by a major trade group in the state. In a recent CNBC article, the California Forestry Association, which represents both forest owners and producers, argued in favor of a more sustainable approach to the problem, specifically in terms of the density of trees in the Sierra Nevada, which is high compared with historic levels.

“Fire used to naturally go through the forest, and with 40 trees per acre, the fire will mostly stay on the ground, without creating a catastrophe,” CFA President and CEO Rich Gordon told the news outlet. “This has been a wake-up call for California. We have to do something different to prevent these catastrophic fires.”

Gordon emphasized that the industry is ready to assist in efforts to help solve the issue. CFA has offered a report of its own, the 2018 Forest Health Initiative, in which it recommends solutions to the problem.

“Our forests were once less dense, but decades of fire suppression have created our current overgrowth,” the association wrote in its January report. “We need a new approach to forest management—one that thins our forests with mechanical techniques and prescribed fire.”

The scope of the problem in the state is significant. Per CNBC, one-third of California is covered in forests, many of which are owned by the federal government. Additionally, there is a lot of kindling out there, with the USDA Forest Service reporting last year [PDF] that the state has 129 million dead trees, or more than three for every resident.

(via the U.S. Forestry Service's Facebook page)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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