Thinning and suppression aren’t working, and fire scientists now say we need to let fires burn to help landscapes adapt to climate change — while controlling development in the red zone to limit damage….
The researchers behind the new study, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that, instead of trying to fight every fire or thin vast areas in futile prevention efforts, the Forest Service should focus on protecting communities and limiting new development in fire-prone areas, while letting some fires — even large — burn, which will help Western landscapes adapt to climate change in the decades ahead….
America has spent about $3 billion on cutting crowded trees and clearing brush on 17 million acres of forest since 2001. During that same span, wildfires continue to rise, and there’s no proof that thinning is working. Schoennagel says most of the thinning has been on federal lands, but the dangerous fires are on private lands.
“I wondered for years why a different PR message is not going out. We cannot change this equation through thinning,” Schoennagel says.
“We need to shift our view and keep in mind what the future variabilities might be, and how we can manage for that,” Schoennagel says. That requires perceiving landscapes and ecosystems in a new way. For example, long-lived forests in mountain areas established themselves when climate conditions were suitable. In the climate-changed future, those conditions will no longer exist. “We should allow those areas to burn and adapt for future conditions. I think we see fire as a consequence, but it can also be a tool to help us keep pace with climate change,” she says.