I found the above video on the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project website while looking for a photos to illustrate the below Esquire article.. it relates to prescribed fire as practiced. And I liked the background music.
Here’s a story in Esquire by a reporter who covers many things. One thing I’ve noticed about the Coastal Gaze is that stories usually involve (at least peripherally) partisan politics and climate change. I don’t know if those bring in more clicks, or it’s just a habit. Certainly hiring lots of climate reporters, as did the WaPo, would incline people to frame stories through a climate lens.
In this article, two individuals were interviewed from Southern Cal and, perhaps not surprisingly, have a different take from what we usually hear in these discussions.
This from Stephanie Pincetl, founding director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities at UCLA:
The area encompassing both Southern California and Baja in Mexico have what’s known as chaparral ecosystems: dry soil, hot weather, and short shrubs. But these two regions’ fire lives have played out very differently. “Right across the border, there are very similar chaparral ecosystems,” Pincetl said, but “that chaparral has not had the benefit of fire suppression, because the Mexicans simply can’t afford it. And it continues to exhibit this low intensity fire pattern, which does not kill the chaparral, but there are unsuppressed fires that occur on a relatively regular basis. And people don’t die. The houses aren’t burned. There’s not huge conflagrations. So how do we get back to that kind of chaparral, is the question.”
It seems to me that people could still die and houses still burn if they are in the way of low level fires.. at least that seems to be the case in grasslands. Does anyone know more about this?
Miller is a AAAS fellow at USC. I think this is probably the first time that private property has been discussed as an obstacle to forest management..
Here Miller pointed towards a whole bunch of modern obstacles to forest management, be it prescribed burns, mechanical thinning, or “managed wildfires” (a naturally ignited fire that burns out in an unpopulated area). One issue is the fairly basic concept of private property. It’s one thing for the government to organize prescribed burns on land it owns. But of California’s 104 million total acres, according to a study Miller co-authored, 45 million—or 43 percent—are owned by the federal government. Local governments below the state level own another 27 percent, and the remaining 30 percent belongs to the state of California and private entities. The state administers just 2.2 percent of forested land, but CAL FIRE, a state agency, provides wildfire protection to private lands as well.
It’s one thing for the state to enter private property to respond to a natural disaster, an intervention that enjoys broad support across the political spectrum. But once you get into preventative behavior like mechanical thinning and prescribed burns—“fuel treatments”—it becomes a different issue. “Are they trained in how to conduct a prescribed burn?” asks Miller, introducing some elements of the calculus for a private citizen. “Are they concerned about it escaping and causing a liability issue? Are they going to go bankrupt because it set their neighbor’s property on fire?” She added that “a tiny, tiny sliver, far less than 1%, of prescribed burns actually get out of control,” but the possibility is still in the equation. There’s a larger kind of eminent domain question at work around whether the government has the authority to insist that private landowners manage their forests in a certain way based on the public interest in having fewer catastrophic fires. California seems to be looking for a way around this, taking a page out of Florida’s book to change the incentive structure for private landowners—who, by the way, include big lumber companies as well as ranchers or private landowner.
Anyway, the article isn’t paywalled and is an interesting take or at least an angle. There”s also the “people shouldn’t live there” argument.
Beyond people’s opinions about these fuel treatment techniques, though, we have a more fundamental problem. Put simply, there are Americans living in places no human beings should realistically live. It’s true down on the Gulf Coast on the flood plains, it’s true in water-starved areas of the Southwest, it’s true in some basement apartments in Queens, and it’s true of fire-prone spots throughout the wider West. One basic fact of life in a climate-adjusted world is that people are going to be on the move, but it’s no easy thing to convince somebody they have to. And to make them? It’s a major political battle to institute any rules at all, a contest of competing interests that, as it always does in America, comes down to power and who has it.
I don’t really understand this.. it sounds like people move places because they like to live there. Especially with work from home. If it gets unpleasant enough, overcrowded or too expensive or whatever, they will move elsewhere. Why exactly do we need to convince people “they have to”? What’s that about?