Our communities and surrounding forests are at risk as we head into the 2021 fire season. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors recently approved $3.7 million for “vegetation management projects to reduce wildfire risk.” Governor Newsom approved a fire budget of $1.24 billion for wildfire and “forest resilience“ funding, with just $25 million, 2 percent, for building community resilience. “Vegetation management” and “forest resilience” are code words for large-scale logging efforts often concentrated in areas far from homes and communities. Such “vegetation management” projects do little or nothing to protect us from fire.
Healthy forests sequester tons of carbon and provide essential protection from increasing global warming. When we allow forests to be disturbed and “managed” through logging, we intensify fire’s existential threat. Thinning and clearcutting of surrounding forests caused the 2018 Camp Fire to advance quickly toward the town of Paradise and devastate it. The 2020 Creeks Fire also advanced quickly through previously thinned and cleared forests. Yet thousands of acres are currently being logged in Sonoma County.
The urgent question is how can we better protect our communities from catastrophic fires while regenerating rather than destroying our forest ecosystems.
Dr. Jack Cohen, a physical scientist retired from the US Forest Service, showed conclusively with thousands of studies that homes and businesses are best protected by hardening and creating defensible space. Clearing defensible space beyond 100 feet does not increase protection. “Working from the Home Outward: A New Direction for California Wildfire Policy” is an excellent resource. https://environmentnow.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Home-Outward-report-2021-1.pdf. Fire has been part of California landscapes for eons. We can best protect homes and communities by hardening structures, keeping evacuation routes clear, and stopping new development in fire-prone zones. Government funding should support home and business owners to take up this challenge.
Sacrificing forests to save homes is a false solution, leading to disaster. Deforestation makes matters worse by removing the largest trees, which keep forests cool and moist. Flammable weeds and grasses immediately replace the trees. Exposed soil dries out; wind-driven fires can then race through. Heavy equipment compacts soil, leading to erosion and loss of biodiversity. Instead, our officials should impose a moratorium on logging as “fire protection management.” Forest ecologists can lead initiatives that respect intact forest ecosystems. The first rule of operation should be to do no harm. Forests regulate temperature, create oxygen, create soil, purify air and water, provide wildlife habitat, protect watersheds, and store and sequester carbon. Our well-being depends on these forests; we continue to destroy them at our peril.
The Sonoma County Climate Activist Network (SoCoCAN!) is a strong and active network of over 50 local climate activist groups, over 200 individuals, and hundreds of local group members working together to address and reverse climate change. We meet in months with a 5th Monday, 7-9 PM. Currently we meet on Zoom. Next meeting is on August 30. Join our listserv for lively discussion and information sharing. Let us know if your group would like to join the network. Network support is available for all local climate activism. Contact us at SonomaCountyCAN.org.