Ecology, Climate Change and Related News

Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

A focus on fire-resilient forest management and innovative funding mechanisms after CA fires

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by Michelaina Johnson  Feb 8 2018 read full WaterDeeply article here

….As Southern California rebuilds [from the 281,893-acre Thomas Fire that started in early December and the subsequent deadly mudslides that hit a month later]…one area of particular interest to environmentalists, county officials and researchers is the wildland-urban interface – the zone of transition between unoccupied land and human development….

Structures in the wildland-urban interface…are especially vulnerable because they are located on the front line of oncoming flames from wildfires. Though these homes were often purchased for their easy accessibility to scenic areas, their ideal location can become a risk during wildfires and an economic burden following one.

Some insurance companies, worried about the susceptibility of homes located in high-risk fire zones, may rethink the areas in which they offer coverage following a major blaze, while some homeowners may lose their fire insurance coverage altogether, said Bob Daddi, an Ojai State Farm Insurance agent….

…Ventura County will have to consider reviewing and updating county plans to incorporate “what worked and what did not work as well as expected and what type of planning policies may need to be revised or created to make the county more resilient to forest fires and fire-related risks.”

…the question of how to finance large-scale mitigation efforts that reduce fire risk has become a top concern. Char Miller, a professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College, proposes that Southern California counties, including Ventura and Santa Barbara, pass “fire-and-flood” control bonds that would raise revenues on a countywide level…to purchase two kinds of property: unbuilt sites located within areas that CalFire, the state agency responsible for fire protect ion, has mapped as fire hazard severity zones; and, on a willing-seller basis, residences that wildland fires have damaged or destroyed…. however, ….CalFire’s maps of high-risk areas are a decade old. With climate change, Miller is concerned that these maps don’t adequately assess potential conditions 50–75 years down the road and thus are useless for helping counties identify future high-risk fire zones.

..In addition …these funds could be used to buy or put a conservation easement on agricultural lands that created buffers against the Thomas Fire, contingent on the landowners’ willingness. This in turn would preserve the county’s agricultural aesthetic while also protecting the built environment from flames.

…“Well-watered living trees do not burn easily,” said John Krist, chief executive officer of the Farm Bureau of Ventura County. “Although many orchards were significantly charred along the edges, it was rare to see fire making its way deep into the groves.” … but farms do not guarantee a safeguard against a fire propelled by 50mph Santa Ana winds, Krist cautions..

The severity of the Thomas Fire has been largely attributed to a Santa Ana wind episode that lasted two to three times longer than those historically recorded. A U.S. Forest Service report also predicts, thanks to climate-driven processes, a shift in the timing of Santa Ana winds from September/October to November/December and an increase in the area burned in wind-driven fires in coming years….

…Uncertainty around the intensity and frequency of natural disasters in a warmer climate …has prompted calls for more fire-resilient forest management… using land-based interventions, such as forest thinning or changes in management practices, to create healthier and more resilient ecosystems. The specific interventions vary depending on the challenges confronting each forest….The U.S. Forest Service has a tight budget. It now spends the vast majority of the money it does have fighting yearly blazes, with little left over to prepare for warming temperatures. ...

One possible solution to help close the funding gap is the Forest Resilience Bond. Through this approach, private investors would provide the upfront capital necessary to restore national forests and reduce the impact of wildfires…..

Todd Gartner of the World Resources Institute explains that the Forest Resilience Bond could wield private investment. This could ensure the resources are available upfront to accomplish the restoration work that is specific to national forests throughout California in the face of tight annual budgets and challenges around federal budget cycles for multiyear projects.

The beneficiaries of the restoration work would make payments back to the investors based on the project’s success and on cost-sharing. The beneficiaries could include water utilities, electric utilities, the recreational industry and the Forest Service itself….

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