What Stops Western States From Intentional Burning As A Way To Prevent Wildfires?

Environment: NPR


A historically destructive wildfire season across much of the western US has renewed debate over intentional burns. Those managed wildfires would help clear forests and grasslands of dangerous levels of vegetation built up over decades of fire suppression. But experts say we will need to intentionally burn many more acres to get the West's wildfire problem check NPR's Eric Westervelt reports in Colorado three of the state's five largest wildfires in history have burned this year in California. Five of the biggest on record have occurred just since August fire colleges say that while people right now might not WanNa hear it. The most effective prevention strategy is to use. More, fire to fix the region's wildfire problem people might say that you know they're scared of doing for stripe fire but you know I'm scared what will happen in the next ten years if we don't prescribe fire, let's Kate Wilkin a fire a columnist with the Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center at San Jose state she recognizes how awful it's been for many in recent years people who've lost loved ones and homes the fear stress in smoke-filled air drifting hundreds of miles. But in terms of forest health will says California is supposed to burn. So in the state top four, million acres burned earlier this month Wilkin. Thought Wow. We're actually getting into the ballpark how many acres used to bring California just shortly remembers me four, point, four, million and twelve million acres to burn every year contrast. California in the last few years has intentionally burned just over fifty thousand acres on public lands federal and California officials recently signed an agreement to try to boost that significantly to treat about a million acres a year with combined thinning and controlled. Burns but critics say that's nowhere near enough to meet this moment Malcolm North is a research scientist with the US Forest Service. He says a major. To expanding controlled Burns is institutional inertia in these large risk, averse state and federal agencies like the one he works for it's not something in which incremental cautious decisions are going to solve the problem. So you need to have a cultural shift in the public's understanding about the inevitability of fire, but you also need a cultural shift within the agencies to be more supportive of the. USA Fire if historically flawed forest management is half the problem here battling most fire. The other half is the world's warming climate with hotter drier conditions igniting a century of built up fuel says Michael Warren with Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. The problem has kind of turned from this thing that we can manage to a monster and taming that monster through intentional fire war says. is vital yet costly. It's estimated that thinning and prescribed burns can cost up to two thousand dollars per acre coming up with the money to do this at scale has always been a major obstacle we need to stained federal and state financial support. If we're going to have any hope of moving the needle other barriers to doing more intentional burns, include tough environmental rules and liability. Laws and then their safety. The vast majority of these fires are done without harm to people or property, but they're not risk free. For example, a Park Service controlled burn twenty years ago near Los Alamos New Mexico got out of control when high winds picked up some four hundred homes burned the federal nuclear lab. There was threatened withering criticism and congressional hearings followed the plan was flawed. The higher ups rubber-stamped it. The burn boss was not qualified to do fire this big that Los Alamos fire became the Enron of controlled Burns a rare but spectacularly, botched event whose effect is still felt today across federal agencies despite the long bitter fights in Washington over how to manage the nation's forests they're currently several bills in the US Senate would significantly boost federal funding for intentional fires. One of them even has some bipartisan support. Eric. Westervelt NPR news.

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