With or without figuring out what proportion of climate change is caused by which aspect of human activity (CO2, land use changes, particulates and so on), destructive wildfires (forest, shrub, grass) are happening today, and likely to increase into the future. Each area of the US is different, though, Minnesota is not New Hampshire and Florida is not New Mexico. So each area has to find its own way. Still, there are discussions we can have in common.
As we’ve talked about before in our discussion of fire “worseness”, we don’t really have to calibrate how much worse fires are than they used to be to simply say “wildfires can be damaging to people, infrastructure, watersheds, and wildlife, yet fire is part of our landscapes. How can we jointly best deal with it.?”
Below are some problems and some possible solutions that folks have identified, and who is responsible for discovering and implementing the solutions:
(1) Worse fire weather, longer fire seasons, long-term fuels build-up: better suppression technology, more bucks for suppression, better models of fire behavior, (fire suppression organizations, fuels specialists, technology development folks and fire scientists)
- mechanical fuel treatments, prescribed burning and wildland fire use are all part of changing fire behavior such that suppression can be easier.* For people to be comfortable with PB and WFU requires confidence in suppression if things go awry, which tracks back to improving suppression.
(2) More people living in fire prone areas – better access for evacuation, better warning systems, better planning of subdivisions, plus upgrades to existing ones. (County planning and zoning, emergency services, Firewise, CWPPs, insurance companies, technology developers for fire proofing homes and other infrastructure, homeowners)
(3) More human-caused ignitions- (education, law enforcement).
(4) Human-caused climate change (energy companies, industry, land use, agriculture, individual behavior….)
Please feel free to add any other problems, solutions, and who can develop and implement solutions. One thing that I’ve noticed from watching the press over the last year is that much time is spent on mechanical fuel treatments and climate change, and how relatively little time is spent on the other topics. Sometimes the experts quoted don’t have on-the-ground experience with any of the solutions.
I’ve also noticed that the idea that “people should just not move to places with wildland fire” seems to have been a bit changed by fires hitting towns like Santa Rosa, Malibu and Paradise. One of the reasons it appears that people move to the shrublands of southern California is a lack of affordable housing closer to the center of town. If population increases, and you don’t densify existing areas, people have to go somewhere. It may be wooded areas, it may be shrubby areas, or even grassy areas. Many people don’t want to live in a dense environment and many cities can’t just decide to densify without substantial pushback.
When I think about “Living With Fire” this way, and the press coverage, I generally think of two things. First, how much is occupied by the relatively tiny discussion over mechanical fuel treatment (not helped by Presidential tweets)? How much of this is an artifact of previous debates and discussion about public lands? How much of this is fitting a complex problem into a good guy-bad guy narrative? Most of the more complex stories I’ve read have been in local papers.
The second thing I’ve noticed is how few articles I’ve seen on what people are doing to work on better suppression technologies, emergency communications, planning and zoning, and so on. So I am going to try to highlight examples I’ve found in the next few postsand I encourage you to send me links to ones you’ve found, or post in the comments below. I will also highlight some examples of stories that suggest people are not all that far apart on the mechanical treatment debate.