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Tag Archive: fire

  1. Wildfire management of CA’s chaparral ecosystem can devastate wild bird populations and fire-risk reduction is only temporary- new study

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    • Although bird species diversity and abundances rebounded after one-time use of prescribed fires, most birds never returned to masticated sites. Mastication reduced the number of bird species by about 50 percent and reduced total numbers of birds by about 60 percent.
    • “The best available science tells us that managing chaparral imperils wildlife and increases fire risk…Our study continues to build the case that we should live densely and away from chaparral.”

    February 14, 2018 University of Arizona read full ScienceDaily article here

    On the tail of California’s most destructive and expensive year of firefighting ever, it might seem obvious that vegetation removal would reduce the risk of such a year happening again. But scientists are showing that in chaparral, California’s iconic shrubland ecosystem, management can devastate wild bird populations and that fire-risk reduction is only temporary.

    …Chaparral is a fire-prone ecosystem in North America that is widespread throughout California. Although it makes up only 6 percent of California by area, it contains one-quarter of the species found in the California Floristic Province, a global biodiversity hotspot. To date, no other studies have compared the effects of different fire management types on California chaparral wildlife….

    …Although bird species diversity and abundances rebounded after one-time use of prescribed fires, most birds never returned to masticated sites. Mastication reduced the number of bird species by about 50 percent and reduced total numbers of birds by about 60 percent….

    …Much of California’s chaparral is burning too frequently to replace itself because of human-caused ignitions and longer wildfire seasons due to climate change. According to Scott Stephens, the principal investigator of the experiment at UC Berkeley, too-frequent fire can cause chaparral to be replaced by invasive grasses, which can increase fire risk.

    This leads to other problems. Grasses don’t hold soils in place, so deadly mudslides may follow wildfires, such as those in Santa Barbara, California….

    …”The best available science tells us that managing chaparral imperils wildlife and increases fire risk,” she said. “Our study continues to build the case that we should live densely and away from chaparral.”

    Erica A. Newman, Jennifer B. Potts, Morgan W. Tingley, Charles Vaughn, Scott L. Stephens. Chaparral bird community responses to prescribed fire and shrub removal in three management seasons. Journal of Applied Ecology, 2018; DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.13099

  2. Living in a fire-adapted landscape: Priorities for watershed resiliency in Sonoma County’s natural and working lands

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    February 12 2018 Living in a Fire-Adapted Landscape

    In the wake of the North Bay fires, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors directed the Sonoma County Ag + Open Space District to convene a coalition of organizations and agencies to identify short-term actions for watershed recovery and long-term strategies for watershed resiliency. This Watershed Collaborative included the active engagement and participation of nearly 160 individuals representing over 65 local nonprofits [including Point Blue Conservation Science], RCDs and community groups, as well as state and federal agencies. Together, this group developed a set of short-term recovery and long-term strategies for watershed resiliency. The report, Living in a Fire-Adapted Landscape, was delivered to our Board in January, and will be a foundational document for the Natural Resources position in the County’s newly-formed Office of Recovery and Resiliency.

    THE REPORT: Living in a fire-adapted landscape: Priorities for resiliency in Sonoma County’s natural and working lands (pdf) Jan 2018

    Overall Priorities
    1. Support landowners and land managers in assessing and mitigating watershed impacts from the 2017 North Bay fires.
    2. Increase community awareness and preparedness for living in fire-prone landscapes.
    3. Evaluate the response of natural and working lands to the fires to inform recovery, vegetation management, and fire-preparedness efforts.
    4. Identify and implement practices – including land conservation, fuel-load
    management – that maximize the resiliency of natural and working lands to
    climate change and future disasters.
    5. Ensure long-term attention to community and ecosystem resiliency through policy, long-term funding, and established working groups.
    6. Permanently protect a network of lands that support biological diversity through changing climate conditions and prevent development in high risk areas.
  3. A focus on fire-resilient forest management and innovative funding mechanisms after CA fires

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    • As California communities look to rebuild after enduring devastating wildfires and mudslides, there is a growing call for more for more fire-resilient forest management such as forest thinning or changes in management practices, to create healthier and more resilient ecosystems, but funds are lacking.
    • One idea is a Forest Resilience Bond with private investors paying up front and then beneficiaries of the restoration- including water utilities, electric utilities, the recreational industry and the Forest Service – make payments back to the investors based on the project’s success and on cost-sharing.

    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….

  4. Fire Ecology’s Lessons for a More Resilient Future

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    • In the wake of California wildfire’s mass destruction, ecologists see radical hope in regeneration.

     

    ….There is no silver lining to a fire like those that struck Sonoma and Napa counties in October, or the still-burning Thomas Fire in Southern California, which has burned 281,900 acres to become the largest California wildfire in modern recorded history. But for people like Willie and Erik Ohlsen, an ecological designer and director of the Permaculture Skills Center in Sebastopol, the North Bay fires are a wake-up call, a chance to proactively address the way the plants and animals of Northern California, and most of the Golden State, have co-evolved with fire—and to rebuild these communities with fire in mind.

    Others go further, saying that poor planning and land management practices turned a natural feature of chaparral landscapes into a catastrophic force, leaving in its wake $3 billion in estimated damages. The city of Santa Rosa alone has already blown through $5 million from their general fund to fight the fires and the massive recovery effort has just begun…

    Fight Fire with Fire

    ….Sasha Berleman, a fire ecologist with the Audubon Canyon Ranch (ACR), an environmental conservation and education organization headquartered at Bouverie Preserve in the Sonoma County town of Glen Ellen. “All of our plant communities depend on fire as part of their life-cycle,” says Berleman. “Many of them depend on fire that occurs more frequently than we’ve allowed it to burn.”

    Native Americans knew this, Berleman says, and used fire to manage landscapes for food and textile production. As David Carle writes in Introduction to Fire in California, indigenous California tribes set fire to the landscape to reduce the threat of wildfires to their villages, to stimulate the sprouting of the stick-straight dogbane stems needed for basketry and tools, to control insects, fungus, and pathogens, and to encourage the growth of seeds.

    …Last May, Berleman conducted a few initial small, prescribed burns to reduce the fuel load on grasslands on the preserve. An early, informal assessment showed that these areas burned less intensely than other parts, and helped moderate the fire’s progression….

    “Fire can’t be prevented, it can only be postponed,” says Berleman. She advocates for two solutions to future fire threats.

    • First, an “all hands on deck” cooperative approach to fuels treatments on private and public land: prescribed fire, broadcast burning, mechanical thinning, and grazing.
    • Second, improved public education on the integral role of fire in California ecosystems. Recently, the state provided her funding to establish a highly trained, interagency fire crew to implement technically approved prescribed fuels treatments and controlled burns on private land in Sonoma County starting in the fall of 2018…

    Grazing: Land Management’s Missing Link?

    grazing is the missing link in managing rangelands for fire safety. For centuries, the California landscape was populated by large grazing animals like deer and elk, but those populations have severely declined with widespread human settlement. “If you don’t graze, it creates tinder,” says Hoff.

    Did Poor Planning Increase the Fire’s Devastation?

    ….The question of land use and development in areas with high fire risk has also come up regularly. Gaye LeBaron, a columnist for the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, wrote in the Washington Post about how Santa Rosa ignored nature’s warning by developing thousands of homes within the same footprint as the infamous Hanly Fire of 1964. The difference, wrote LeBaron, is that back then, “there were very few houses in the area that burned. As the city limits extended and the population increased by 135,000, the open land in that earlier fire corridor became a destination for developers.”

    …“Bigger homes, closer together is a recipe for more fuel on the landscape,” says Gregory L. Simon, an associate professor of geography and environmental sciences at the University of Colorado and author of Flame and Fortune in the American West. “In my opinion, we shouldn’t be building homes in areas of high fire risk at all. It’s not a matter of building fire-safe construction or zoning in certain ways. Simply because of the loss of life involved and the risk to first responders….

  5. How California’s record wildfire season paved the way for catastrophic mudslides

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  6. How we know it was climate change in record breaking hurricanes and wildfires in the US

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    •  Did climate change play a role in record breaking hurricanes and wildfires in the US this year? Increasingly, scientists are able to answer that question — and increasingly, the answer is yes.
    • There is now ample evidence that global warming has influenced extremes in the United States and around the world through such factors as temperature, atmospheric moisture and sea level. This doesn’t mean that every event has a human fingerprint. But it does mean that we can expect more years like this one, when our old expectations no longer apply.

    STANFORD, Calif. —

    ….My lab recently published a new framework for examining connections between global warming and extreme events. Other scientists are doing similar research. How would we go about testing whether global warming has influenced the events that occurred this year?

    Consider Hurricane Harvey, which caused enormous destruction along the Gulf Coast; it will cost an estimated $180 billion to recover from the hurricane’s storm surge, high winds and record-setting precipitation and flooding. Did global warming contribute to this disaster? The word “contribute” is key. This doesn’t mean that without global warming, there wouldn’t have been a hurricane. Rather, the question is whether changes in the climate raised the odds of producing extreme conditions.

    Hurricanes are complicated business. While there is evidence that global warming should increase the frequency of very intense storms, their rarity and complexity make it difficult to detect climate change’s fingerprint.

    It is therefore critical to examine all of the contributing factors. In the case of Hurricane Harvey, these include the warm ocean that provided energy for the storm; the elevated sea level on top of which the storm surge occurred; the atmospheric pressure pattern that contributed to the storm’s stalling over the coast; and the atmospheric water vapor that provided moisture for the record-setting precipitation…..

    ….Our scientific framework can also be applied to other events. Like Harvey’s devastation, California’s ravaging wildfires arose from a confluence of factors. Strong, dry winds were the most immediate contributor. In addition, the protracted drought that killed millions of trees created substantial fuel. After the drought, an extremely wet winter was followed by severely hot, dry conditions in the summer and fall, which together produced near-record fuel for fires. Although each of these specific factors will need to be analyzed, we already know that global warming has increased fuel aridity in the West, meaning that fires are more likely to encounter large amounts of dry fuel.

    There is now ample evidence that global warming has influenced extremes in the United States and around the world through such factors as temperature, atmospheric moisture and sea level. This doesn’t mean that every event has a human fingerprint. But it does mean that we can expect more years like this one, when our old expectations no longer apply.

  7. California’s Thomas Fire torches record books, as ‘normal’ climate burns away

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    December 23rd 2017  read full Natl. Observer article here

  8. In California’s wildfires, a looming threat to climate goals

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    • CA’s environmental regulations apply only to human-caused emissions. Carbon and other pollution generated by wildfires is outside state law.
    • Forests are part of the state’s strategy for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions significantly by 2020 and beyond…. The air board will direct state agencies to determine more precisely how much carbon can be absorbed by California’s variety of landscapes….
    • The U.S. Forest Service this week updated its estimate of dead trees across California to 129 million. That loss alone could be a blow to the state’s vision of a low-carbon future.

    by Julie Cart December 14 2017 Read full CalMatters article here

    Beyond the devastation and personal tragedy of the fires that have ravaged California in recent months,  another disaster looms: an alarming uptick in unhealthy air and the sudden release of the carbon dioxide that drives climate change.

    …..The state’s environmental regulations are known to be stringent, but they have limits: They apply only to human-caused emissions. Carbon and other pollution generated by wildfires is outside the grasp of state law.

    ….In less than one week, for example, October’s wine-country fires discharged harmful emissions equal to that of every car, truck and big rig on the state’s roads in a year. The calculations from the subsequent fires in Southern California are not yet available, but given the duration and scope of the multiple blazes, the more recent complex of fires could well exceed that level.

    The greenhouse gases released when forests burn not only do immediate harm, discharging carbon dioxide and other planet-warming gases, but also continue to inflict damage long after the fires are put out. In a state where emissions from nearly every industry are tightly regulated, if wildfires were treated like other carbon emitters, Mother Nature would be castigated, fined and shut down.

    The air board estimates that between 2001 and 2010, wildfires generated approximately 120 million tons of carbon. But Clegern said a direct comparison with regulated emissions is difficult, in part because of limited monitoring data….

    ….Scientists estimate that in severely burned areas, only a fraction of a scorched tree’s emissions are released during the fire, perhaps as little as 15 percent. The bulk of greenhouse gases are released over months and years as the plant dies and decomposes.  And if a burned-out forest is replaced by chaparral or brush, that landscape loses more than 90 percent of its capacity to take in and retain carbon, according to the [Sierra Nevada] Conservancy….

    ….The role of wildfire as a major source of pollution was identified a decade ago, when a study conducted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research concluded that “a severe fire season lasting only one or two months can release as much carbon as the annual emissions from the entire transportation or energy sector of an individual state.”

    ….The entire equation has been made worse by the state’s epidemic of tree death, caused by drought, disease and insect infestation. The U.S. Forest Service this week updated its estimate of dead trees across California to 129 million. That loss alone could be a blow to the state’s vision of a low-carbon future.

    ….Forests as carbon-chewers are part of the state’s strategy for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions significantly by 2020 and beyond—a goal that could be undermined by nature’s caprice. The air board will direct state agencies to determine more precisely how much carbon can be absorbed by California’s variety of landscapes….

    ….Sean Raffuse, an analyst at the Air Quality Research Center at the University of California, Davis, came up with the “back of the envelope” calculations for October’s Sonoma County fires.

    Raffuse said he used federal emissions inventories from fires and calculated that five days of ashy spew from the northern California blazes equated to the annual air pollution from every vehicle in California….

     

  9. After California’s most destructive fire season, a debate over where to rebuild homes and best policies to reduce future costs

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    • In light of experience showing that wind-blown embers can carry fire into suburban areas, Cal Fire plans to revise the maps next year and will likely include even more neighborhoods
    • I would tell a zoning commission in Claremont or wherever, ‘Buy up the land before it gets built. And if a fire comes through, buy up the land so it won’t burn again.’ ”
    • As a condition of approval…the developer should establish a mechanism to require purchasers to pay for any increased fire protection that the property will require

    Doug Smith December 16 read full LA Times article here

    After a destructive wildfire swept from Calabasas to Malibu in 1993, the head of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy stood on a mountaintop on live TV and made a radical proposal. He called for a “three-strikes” rule to limit the number of times recovery funds could be spent to help rebuild a home destroyed by wildfire 

    [Today] I think two strikes is enough and they ought to be bought out,” Edmiston said, after spending three days coordinating the conservancy’s crews on the Skirball, Rye and Creek fires.

    ….“I think what’s next is that every mayor, every town council and city planning board has to take this really seriously,” said Char Miller, professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College. “I would tell a zoning commission in Claremont or wherever, ‘Buy up the land before it gets built. And if a fire comes through, buy up the land so it won’t burn again.’ ”….

    ….“In determining how or why or when homes should be rebuilt after a fire, it helps to have science on where homes should or shouldn’t be placed,” said Alexandra Syphard, senior research scientist at the nonprofit Conservation Biology Institute. “The science isn’t fully there yet.”

    The current standard for fire prediction is embodied in maps produced during the 2000s by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Largely based on vegetation and topography, the maps cover broad swaths of the state with gradations from moderate to very high fire hazard. In light of experience showing that wind-blown embers can carry fire into suburban areas, Cal Fire plans to revise the maps next year and will likely include even more neighborhoods….

    Richard Halsey, director of the California Chaparral Institute, advocates holding local agencies financially responsible for fire losses of developments they approved. They should pay for all costs not covered by insurance and, if the owner rebuilds, all fire safety features, including exterior sprinkler systems….He favors methods to reverse the economic pressure, “everything from taking tracts of land at the urban periphery out of development, conservation easements. It might mean promoting higher insurance rates for homes built in high-risk areas such that the demand would go down.”

    …Edmiston said he has tallied 531 proposed new housing units being considered by the cities of Los Angeles and Calabasas in very high fire hazard zones in the Santa Monica Mountains. “We’re not talking about low income,” Edmiston said. “We’re talking about $1.5-million-plus homes.”

    He proposes a linkage between the right to build and the inevitable cost of firefighting and recovery. As a condition of approval, he said, the developer should establish a mechanism to require purchasers to pay for any increased fire protection that the property will require.

    “We’re talking about the climate change paradigm of the Santa Monica Mountains,” Edmiston said. “We’ve got to protect ourselves so that the rest of the city and the rest of the county don’t have to pay for putting these multimillion-dollar houses right next to the risk.”

  10. Thomas fire (Ventura/Santa Barbara Co.) rages amid longest red flag warning on record

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    by Joseph Serna, Brittny Mejia  Dec 15 2017 read full LA Times article here

    As crews battling the deadly Thomas fire girded for a difficult weekend of firefighting, Los Angeles and Ventura counties ended their 12th consecutive day of red flag fire warnings Friday — the longest sustained period of fire weather warnings on record.

    “We put out plenty of red flag warnings, but we haven’t seen them out 12 days in a row. That’s unusual,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Curt Kaplan. “This has been the longest duration event that we have had a red flag warning out without any breaks.”…

    …Even when forecasters say the winds will blow south, swirling gusts at lower elevations could drive the blaze in another direction, Olivas said. The lack of uniformity to the winds in the forest north of Santa Barbara is what makes fighting a fire there so difficult, he said.

    The Thomas fire has destroyed more than 900 structures in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties since it began Dec. 4 in Santa Paula. In its first day, the fire spread southwest, toward Ventura, and northwest, eventually hugging Ojai before pushing to the Santa Barbara coast.