I have some great news! The Forest Service has (apparently) realized that a hands-off approach to forest management is serving no one’s interests, be it trees, brush, the watershed, wildlife or the urban-rural interface (read that people!). Allow me to elaborate.
By eliminating thinning, logging, fuel breaks, control burns and the like, we allowed our wildlands to create a density of trees that are up to 10 times more than what is optimal for a healthy forest ecosystem. That is, when there are too many trees and too much underbrush in a forest, the trees find it very difficult to compete for sunshine, nutrients and water.
The trees then become weakened and susceptible to pests and diseases. They end up dying (California has more than 140 million dead trees!) and becoming fuel for ravaging forest fires. The same holds true for overgrown underbrush. Moreover, the overgrown underbrush eliminates foraging habitat for various species that feed on the natural grasslands that would otherwise thrive, while providing enormous fuel-loading for fires.
This hands-off policy has been an unmitigated disaster. Millions of acres have burned, resulting in scores of deaths with entire communities lost in the process. Moreover, the deadly Montecito debris flow, which claimed over 20 lives and destroyed so many properties, is part of a deadly cycle of fires and floods, as denuded landscapes create the perfect conditions for floods and debris flows.
Another concern from these out-of-control wildfires has to do with air quality impacts, which exacerbate breathing difficulties in vulnerable populations.
And, in an age where so many people are concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, these wildfires have completely eclipsed any GHG reductions. The carbon releases from these fires obliterated any reductions made by way of regulatory fiat and command and control measures.
The Forest Service is initiating an environmental review process for the proposed new actions. It would be very helpful if you would send in a constructive and supportive comment to the service based on any of the comments mentioned in this column, or those of your own!
This would be helpful because certain environmental knuckle draggers in our community, namely Los Padres Forest Watch among others, will oppose this common-sense measure. These extremists would continue to risk the loss of lives and properties via out-of-control wildfires rather than use prescribed-burn measures.
Here are some excerpts from the Forest Service notice: “The Los Padres National Forest (LPNF) is conducting an environmental analysis of the Ecological Restoration Project. he purpose of this project is to restore fire-adapted ecosystems, reduce fuels,and reintroduce fire on the landscape by prescribed burning on approximately 235,495 acres of land administered by the LPNF, within Kern, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. The project, as proposed, would enhance protection for wildland urban interface (WUI) communities and infrastructure, and improve fire and drought resilience of forested landscapes.”
The notice welcomes interested and affected members of the public to comment regarding potential environmental issues to inform the content of the Environmental Assessment being prepared to evaluate this proposal. Comments received will be used to further refine the proposed action and to identify potential issues to be addressed through the environmental analysis process.
The Forest Service welcomes comments and questions on the proposed LPNF Ecological Restoration Project. To result in the best outcome, please send your specific written comments electronically by Aug.28, 2022 to: cara.fs2c.usda.gov/Public//CommentInput?Project=62369.
Andy Caldwell is the COLAB executive director and host of “The Andy Caldwell Show,” airing 3 to 5 p.m. weekdays on KZSB AM 1290, the News-Press radio station.