Inoculating forests against forest fires


Fighting fires before they spark

University of New Mexico research could impact forest management around the world

With warm, dry summers comes a deadly caveat for the western United States: wildfires. Scientists say the hot, dry climates found west of the Mississippi, along with decades of fire suppression efforts, are creating a devastating and destructive combination – leading to fires like the ones currently burning in California.

It’s a problem biologists at The University of New Mexico are looking to put a damper on. Now, new research from UNM is giving forest and fire management teams across the country the upper hand in reducing the severity of these events.

“These big fires will always happen,” said Dan Krofcheck, a post-doctoral fellow in UNM’s Department of Biology. “We’re looking at what forest managers can do to minimize the impact these wildfires have on the system.”

The issue has two main components, according to Krofcheck, both stemming from human impact to the environment. Global warming, due to human-caused carbon emissions, has worsened the already hot and dry climate in the most at-risk areas, like California. In addition, aggressive firefighting and fire suppression efforts have left a large amount of fuel, in the form of underbrush, throughout the forests. Together, these two factors lead to massive blazes with the capacity to destroy land, homes and lives.

“For a long time, there’s been this stigma that fire in the landscape is a bad thing. It makes sense, because fire is a destructive process,” says Krofcheck. “But, it’s also an integral part of how these ecosystems evolved and we kind of shut that down through heavy fire suppression activity. The result is that fuel that would have been consumed by frequent fire, builds up and accumulates. Subsequently, when you finally have fire move through an area, after it’s been suppressed for 30, 50, 100 years, you have these massive fires that no longer just consume the understory but they’re actually torching crowns and moving through the tree canopy.”

To combat this, forest managers employ two primary treatment practices. Mechanical thinning is the process of physically removing the thick underbrush with machinery or by hand – a method that is effective but also very expensive. Managers also use prescribed burns to clear areas – using fire, under very strict environmental conditions, to consume excess brush.

The UNM research, ‘Prioritizing forest fuels treatments based on the probability of high-severity fire restores adaptive capacity in Sierran forests,’ recently published in Global Change Biology, examines how to most efficiently use these two methods.

Krofcheck, along with his advisor, UNM Associate Professor Matthew Hurteau, and colleagues from North Carolina State University and the USDA Forest Service, ran forecast simulations using projected climate data in the Dinkey Creek Collaborative Landscape Forest Restoration Project area in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. In Scenario A, researchers mechanically thinned the entire area that is operationally and legally available – an unrealistically expensive endeavor in practice. Scenario B employed an optimized approach, thinning only the most at-risk portions of land, about two-thirds less than in Scenario A.

“We wanted to find a way to apply these expensive thinning treatments in such a way that we could put as few on the landscape as possible and achieve some comparable outcome, relative to a case where we thinned everything,” said Krofcheck.

After nearly a thousand simulations, the results show that both scenarios reduced the mean fire-severity by as much as 60 percent.

“Even though we thinned about two-thirds less of the forest, we saw the exact same treatment outcomes,” said Krofcheck.

“This research and way of thinking about optimally using your resources, in terms of where you thin, could go a long way in helping these organizations use their dollars most efficiently to achieve their desired outcomes, which is less severe fires,” Hurteau said.

Along with mechanical thinning, both scenarios also heavily depended on fire, either naturally occurring or through prescribed burning, being present in the ecosystem. Researchers say it’s another big takeaway: without fire, no amount of treatment will successfully do the job. It’s something they hope those who live in forested areas will begin to appreciate as a mechanism for stopping devastating wildfire before it breaks out.


The paper:

Prioritizing forest fuels treatments based on the probability of high-severity fire restores adaptive capacity in Sierran forests;jsessionid=2D8376CDA393C19296889A8EC0B0127F.f03t04


In frequent fire forests of the western United States, a legacy of fire suppression coupled with increases in fire weather severity have altered fire regimes and vegetation dynamics. When coupled with projected climate change, these conditions have the potential to lead to vegetation type change and altered carbon (C) dynamics. In the Sierra Nevada, fuels reduction approaches that include mechanical thinning followed by regular prescribed fire are one approach to restore the ability of the ecosystem to tolerate episodic fire and still sequester C. Yet, the spatial extent of the area requiring treatment makes widespread treatment implementation unlikely. We sought to determine if a priori knowledge of where uncharacteristic wildfire is most probable could be used to optimize the placement of fuels treatments in a Sierra Nevada watershed. We developed two treatment placement strategies: the naive strategy, based on treating all operationally available area and the optimized strategy, which only treated areas where crown-killing fires were most probable. We ran forecast simulations using projected climate data through 2,100 to determine how the treatments differed in terms of C sequestration, fire severity, and C emissions relative to a no-management scenario. We found that in both the short (20 years) and long (100 years) term, both management scenarios increased C stability, reduced burn severity, and consequently emitted less C as a result of wildfires than no-management. Across all metrics, both scenarios performed the same, but the optimized treatment required significantly less C removal (naive=0.42 Tg C, optimized=0.25 Tg C) to achieve the same treatment efficacy. Given the extent of western forests in need of fire restoration, efficiently allocating treatments is a critical task if we are going to restore adaptive capacity in frequent-fire forests.

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Rhoda R
October 17, 2017 4:15 pm

For the life of me I don’t see how increased CO2 (a gas used in fire extinguishers) in the atmosphere is adding to the wild fire threat.

Reply to  Rhoda R
October 17, 2017 4:17 pm

More CO2 means more trees.

Reply to  MarkW
October 18, 2017 5:28 am

The claim was increased CO2, increased warming, not increased trees, which is NOT the problem here – it’s the dead underbrush.

Reply to  MarkW
October 18, 2017 6:27 am

More plants means more underbrush, dead or otherwise.

Reply to  MarkW
October 18, 2017 9:46 am

The real problem is fire suppression. When small fires are prevented from occurring, the fuel load grows and when the fire EVENTUALLY occurs it will be a whole lot bigger.

Reply to  Rhoda R
October 17, 2017 6:06 pm

Or how decreasing CO2 in the atmosphere will reduce the wild fire threat!

October 17, 2017 4:16 pm

As always, they assume their evidence.
The only thing that says the forests should be hotter and drier are climate models.
The same models that even the top scientists admit are useless for determining regional changes.
Actual, on the ground data, does not show this warming, but the models say it must be there, so we will continue to assume that it is until we can find or manufacture the evidence that we need to prove we were right all along.

Reply to  MarkW
October 17, 2017 9:43 pm

I’ve lived in a California coastal redwood forest for 40 years. We’ve always been in fear of fire. Always. Since 1977 for me personally. Nothing has changed over that time period. Yesterday a wildfire broke out 15 miles from my home. 5 years ago, a similar fire, 10 years, 20, 30, 40, all the same.

In 1889 the land I live on was clear cut and in 1907 the land around me was cleared to help rebuild San Francisco after the earthquake. There really weren’t any forest management policies in place at the time so the land was just left to recover on its own. As a result I live in a climax hardwood forest surrounded by California oaks and madrones that are being choked out and killed by redwoods. As of about 20 years ago the California Coastal Commission made it illegal for me to thin the trees on my property without paying for a one time $10,000 permit.

The solution isn’t a controlled burn, there’s no such thing. It isn’t mechanical removal, the slopes around me are often greater than 2 in 1. Firefighters yesterday injured themselves just walking around, they fell down 50 foot cliffs and broke bones without getting near the fire.

What’s needed is a biological solution, something designed to rapidly break down the accumulated dead wood on the forest floor without burning it. A fungus would be nice. There’s plenty of water here, it’s technically a rain forest. A drought is 56″ of rain per year, normal is 90″. A wet year is about 150″. Fungus like this environment. We need something that can be sprayed from aircraft to mitigate the damage done by foresters 100 years ago.

And we need it desperately.

Reply to  Bartleby
October 18, 2017 12:55 am

As of about 20 years ago the California Coastal Commission made it illegal for me to thin the trees on my property without paying for a one time $10,000 permit.

So yet another unintended consequence of naive and ill-thought-out enviro policies.

To save the trees we stopped using paper bags. Now we have to stop using plastic which is pollution everywhere and we are back to paper bags again.

Then we were supposed to use diesel because it gave better mileage, now it is a major no-no.

Then they wanted us to use bio-diesel but that put up the price of basic grain commodities and poor countries and the starving were hit hard to feed western “green” fuels.

Then there was ethanol which they are carefully walking away from too.

Do this, do that. Oh wait, don’t to this don’t that. Do this instead.

Give them another ten years and they will saying we need more CO2.

Tom in Denver
Reply to  Bartleby
October 18, 2017 6:51 am

Spray massive amounts of fungus out of airplanes. What could possibly go wrong?
Arrogant impatient geoengineering has the propensity get us into more trouble. It’s always the unintended consequences.

Nature always tends to self correct, but often not on our timescale.

As Blue Oyster Cult once said:
“History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man”

Reply to  Tom in Denver
October 18, 2017 9:44 am

Tom I admit the idea is half-baked and would require a lot of study and some serious money to develop, but when you consider the amount of money involved it seems to me the whole thing could be funded by fire insurance companies who would benefit from the technology by not having to pay claims.

“Unintended consequences” are the excuse of weak minds in my opinion. If you completely study all the effects of a bio-engineered solution they can be avoided. I’m not suggesting they whip up some quick and dirty solution, but honestly, something is needed.

Alternatively, the Green Lobby might be convinced to allow profitable clearing of our forests to undo the damage done a century ago, instead of just being stupid about it. That too has “unintended consequences”.

Reply to  Bartleby
October 18, 2017 9:12 am

Bartleby, I respectfully disagree about both controlled burns and mechanical removal. The last wildfire that moved through my property near Big Sur a few years back did very little permanent damage due to mechanical removal: no fuel, no fire. Over 100 treed acres and we didn’t lose even one live oak or white oak; just leaves and grass. Nearby areas choked with brush lost 75% or all their trees. As to controlled burns getting out of control, you are correct; they do get out of control, but that’s only because they are not done often enough. The last wet season around Napa would have been perfect for controlled burns with little danger of jumping fires from airborne embers. It should be mandatory at least every 5 years. And even after the recent wildfire disaster in Napa and Sonoma, the authorities will still deny you a burn permit in January after a heavy rain with heavy rain in the forecast.

Reply to  Bartleby
October 18, 2017 9:26 am

mairon62, when I discounted mechanical removal it was because it was impossible, only very expensive under the current eco-regime imposed by the Coastal Commission and other Green lobbies. Obviously, the land was cleared in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s so it’s not a technical problem, it’s a regulatory problem. I think I mentioned that I’m required to pay an onerous tax to thin the trees on my property which makes it impossible for me to afford. I end up having to pay large amounts of money and give away the trees to lumber mills, unlike pre-regulation California, when people actually made money from harvesting timber in this area.

Why would I pay to mechanically clear the forest just to protect society from wildfires, when it’s society that prevents me from being able to afford to do so? That’s the real problem.

Reply to  Bartleby
October 18, 2017 9:28 am

Oh crap. “when I discounted mechanical removal it was because it was impossible”.

Should read: “when I discounted mechanical removal it wasn’t because it impossible…”

Reply to  Bartleby
October 18, 2017 9:38 am

Oh I just give up when I need to correct my corrections. This site really needs an edit button, even if only for five minutes. You Moderators know that there’s an off the shelf Disqus integration for WordPress? I’ve used it, it’s far superior to the default WordPress implementation IMO.

[I agree, but, all that is for self-hosted wordpress on your own server, WUWT operates on which doesn’t have that feature, I’ve asked many times. Being on protects WUWT from DDOS and other attacks from people who would rather see it disappear – Anthony]

Reply to  Bartleby
October 18, 2017 12:15 pm

Anthony Watts writes: “WUWT operates on which doesn’t have that feature”

OK. Explanation accepted and I’ll henceforth quit complaining. Good work. 🙂

Reply to  Bartleby
October 19, 2017 2:37 pm

Here is your biological solution. Goats. Sheep. Animals in general. The symbiotic relationship between animals and plants has been crushed. All those animals that would have kept these fire hazards down have been removed from the land.

Put them back.

Reply to  davidgmillsatty
October 19, 2017 4:17 pm

” Goats. Sheep.” Really? Look at the Middle East. Look at Northern Africa, Central Africa, large swaths of Asia. Allowing goats and sheep to denude the landscape has CREATED MASSIVE PROBLEMS, and you want to turn them loose in North America uncontrolled? Christ on a crutch, no wonder the human race is so f*cked.

Reply to  2hotel9
October 25, 2017 9:33 am

Depends how you do it. If you do high density short duration grazing you can do wonders for the soil, the grasslands and the forests. If you let them loose to do their own thing they continue to cause the destruction you describe.

Reply to  davidgmillsatty
October 25, 2017 10:24 am

Letting them run wild and uncontrolled is what is happening. Take the famous Cedars of Lebanon. Enviroloons tell us humans destroyed them by cutting them all down when what has decimated them is goats eating the saplings and sprouts. They also go after the ends of limbs that are low enough to reach and they eat bark when conditions get bad enough. This is true of all other naturally occurring tree and shrub species in the region. Same holds for Saharan and the northern reaches of Sub-Saharan Africa. It is a yuge problem, made exponentially worse by continuous political instability and a constant state of low grade warfare throughout the entire effected region.

Andy Pattullo
Reply to  MarkW
October 17, 2017 11:26 pm

And the paper’s authors think their modeling of fires is also evidence. It is not. It is hypothesis generation. Models aren’t reality anymore than fashion models are a realistic representation of humanity.

October 17, 2017 4:18 pm

Perhaps North Korea has picked up on the Japanese WW II project which used balloons with incendiary devices to start forest fires 🔥 on the west coast. This used the prevailing westerly winds to move the balloons across the Pacific Ocean.

Reply to  Sam
October 17, 2017 4:44 pm

They were bombs, which I suppose could start a fire.

Reply to  garymount
October 17, 2017 4:47 pm

Indeed, they were called fire ballons…

Tom Halla
October 17, 2017 4:23 pm

There has not been any long term warming in the continental US over the past 100 years, but there have been incoherent forest management policies. “Mechanical thinning” is apparently PC speak for lumbering only useless timber, rather than using the wood commercially. Small, low fires were once common, until suppressed due to policy.

M Seward
Reply to  Tom Halla
October 17, 2017 8:03 pm

In Oz we have similar problems but they have sweet FA to do with ‘global warming’ and everything to do with us ‘whitefellas’ stuffing up the eco management that the indigenous peoples had sorted of tens of millenia ago. ‘Cold burning’ is the name for the technique used to clear flammable understory and brush and thankfully there are programs starting up where both local indigenour communities and ‘white’ fire fighters are re-learning the methods and timing. Recenly a program started on Cape Barren ISland in Bass Strait with the local indigenous people going to Northern Australia to be trained in remote communities where the methods were never lost.

The irony is that English and other explorers all around the continent all typically described our landscape as being like ‘ an English gentleman’s park’. There was a reason for that which is it was an indigenous gentleman’s park(as well as his family’s) and his home and his church and he was just the custodian for the term of his life.

Get with the program folks.

Tom Halla
Reply to  M Seward
October 17, 2017 8:24 pm

It is much the same in North America. The natives were here since before the end of the last ice age, and were thus present longer than the forests or open woodland had been present. Somehow, active management by non-whites is somehow “natural”, as if the Aborigines or Indians were not really people.
In the Americas, many of the Indians died of disease before the Europeans moved into the area in large numbers, so there was very little experience of the sort of active land management that had been done.

M Seward
Reply to  M Seward
October 18, 2017 3:21 am

Fortunately the Australian indigenous practice is still alive, particularly in the North of the continent although the main risk to the (white) population centres is in the south and the East Coast. The eucalypts just explode once the heat gets up high enough. You see this in California I gather where there ae a lot of introduced eucalypts. I think Spain does too.

I undertsnad the US & Canada peoples used to burn the oaks to open up for the maples and enjoy the fruits of that. Our forst peoples sculpted the vegetation for shelter, to reduce fire risk, to encourage new shoots and attarct animals to hunt. It really was quite a sophisticated regime.

Google ‘an English gentleman’s park’ and there ae many books on the subject. Bill Gammage’s ‘The Biggest Estate on Earth’ is the one that opened my eyes the most.

October 17, 2017 4:28 pm

It seems to me this is just better resource allocation strategy. The most bang for the buck?
But, was it necessary to toss in the “climate change grenade”? unfortunately so it seems, [sigh]
What they aren’t mentioning is that the high risk zones are also the same areas that are the most expensive to clear, namely steep loose arroyo walls. They use goats in many areas to clear the underbrush out here in CA, but they emit so much methane.
On a similar note it seems the dreaded eucalyptus is playing a big role in Portugal’s fire woes.

October 17, 2017 4:31 pm

“In Scenario A, researchers mechanically thinned the entire area that is operationally and legally available – an unrealistically expensive endeavor in practice. Scenario B employed an optimized approach, thinning only the most at-risk portions of land, about two-thirds less than in Scenario A.”

I’m sorry to be so incredibly dense, but haven’t foresters figured this out years ago with generations of experience instead of a few months of university work done by undergraduates, probably from cities?

Perhaps they’re right, but did they think to work with foresters before they undertook another unnecessary, expensive, taxpayer funded research project?

I hope so.

October 17, 2017 4:31 pm

Every major inquiry into Australian bushfires, going back to 1939 – and our history of major fires goes back much further than that – has concluded that we are not doing enough fuel-management burning.
This is NOT a “climate change” issue. Every area that experiences hot, dry summers (even if they are only really dangerous during occasional droughts) will have conditions in which major fires occur.

What this article ignores, is indigenous Fire-setting practices.
Ask yourself what it would be like to live in a dangerously fire-prone environment, with no refuges, no firefighting equipment, and no mode of transport faster than your own two feet. The obvious response , and the one that early European explorers and settlers in Australia recorded, is to burn early and often. The landscape does not dry out evenly, so burning in spring as soon as any area is dry enough, results in a mosaic of self-extinguishing fires. Low-intensity fires that kill neither wildlife, nor trees, but which provide safety as well as easier hunting, gathering and travel.

I Came I Saw I Left
Reply to  PeterW.
October 18, 2017 8:52 am

And the indigenous people probably had a good sense of the weather and when it was likely to rain, so starting fires within a frequent-rain window would contribute to that mosaic effect. I follow that practice a lot.

Extreme Hiatus
October 17, 2017 4:40 pm

This topic consistently ignores the pre-historical and historical evidence. Native Americans (and indigenous people everywhere) consistently used fire as their primary land management tool for a number of very pragmatic reasons including the prevention of the kind of fires we see now. When the Spanish first saw Los Angeles (and the rest of southern California) they commented on all the smoke. Now we have ‘scientists’ discovering the obvious. Of course, things are now completely different due to all the built infrastructure but one might expect somebody to at least mention this critical fact.

There is an abundance of (mostly ignored) literature on this topic.

It is the amount of fuel that is today’s problem. All this babble about ‘hotter and drier’ is convenient for the CAGW gang but that is not the key factor.

October 17, 2017 4:41 pm

“Global warming, due to human-caused carbon emissions, has worsened the already hot and dry climate in the most at-risk areas, like California”

All the rain they just had…grew all that friggin underbrush……these people are agenda driven morons

Extreme Hiatus
October 17, 2017 4:41 pm

What timing! PeterW just made the same point.

Curious George
October 17, 2017 4:47 pm

Awahnee tribe in Yosemite Valley burned a part of valley floor every year, to grow enough grass for deer. Meadows are changed to forests today. “Primitive” tribes were better scientists than our ecologists.

Reply to  Curious George
October 17, 2017 5:04 pm

Not better scientists, better managers, with “skin in the game”. They’re lives actually depended on getting it right.

October 17, 2017 4:50 pm

“Global warming, due to human-caused carbon emissions, has worsened the already hot and dry climate in the most at-risk areas, like California.”

I would like to see proof of that statement. California has a 200 year long megadrought 900 years ago. I haven’t seen anything that bad recently.

Reply to  crosspatch
October 17, 2017 5:09 pm

Presently (knock on wood) the fires are not in the Sierras, but in developed poorly managed woodlands and leveled off dry chaparral arroyos.
But, don’t you know, climate change only dries out populated areas.

lyn roberts
October 17, 2017 4:54 pm

I wonder if in the fire damaged area of california, there are lots of eucalyptus trees, if so they are a menace. The oils naturally in the leaves are a source of fuel for fires, and without clearance of the natural leaf drop and branches which they also have a tendency to drop adding the the fuel load.
Here in australia we have a winter brush clearance program, especially on the outskirts of cities, much to the disgust of the greenies, they have a policy of these fires damage the forest, small low fires that clear out the leaf drop and saplings & brush, does not harm the trees themselves, although never enough clearance achieved every year with nasty results.
Never fails to amaze me to see the trees post a fire, within a few weeks the blackened trees are sprouting new leaves from the apparently dead looking trunk, and a few months later you would be hard pressed to know there had even been a fire in the area, except looking through the base of the forest no leaf litter.
Many of the australian trees need fire and or smoke for the seeds to germinate, without that fire they are not viable.
I am sure there are many others that follow this site that will be able to give you better information than I can.

October 17, 2017 5:07 pm

All you have to do here in the Santa Cruz mountains is look at the old virgin timber stumps of the massive redwoods. They were much farther apart than the forest that we have here today. That would have dramatically limited the spread of fire. I can see it right out of my window.

Reply to  denniswingo
October 17, 2017 10:10 pm

Me too. For every old growth stump I have 5 or 6 trees. We call them “cathedral” growths, they’re like starfish.

Why this is opaque to educated “foresters” continues to elude me.

October 17, 2017 5:08 pm

Think I said something about this in an earlier comment on a similar issue. Most of the forest and grasslands in North America are fire driven habitats. The periodicity is location dependent but fire generally impacts each area far more regularly than humans would like. So we have had since the 1950s a policy of fire suppression. Remember Smokey the Bear taught us all forest fires were bad and they killed Bambi. (I am actually not trying to be humorous with those references.) Florida had a policy of fire suppression but a lot of research demonstrated that fire suppression ultimately caused more damage environmentally, economically and was a far greater threat to human lives, structures and activities than allowing things to burn or better yet doing controlled burns. Problem is when we suppress fire for a long time we create a disaster in the making. In the early 1990s Florida burned. We had agencies that had good fire management plans that had failed to implement them and had catastrophic fires, including federal agencies. Other agencies had followed their management plans and had significantly less problem. Why did some follow their plans and others not. To do a controlled burn requires understanding the land, the weather, appropriate personnel management AND holding timely public hearings to advise adjacent property owners. The reason most agencies that had not followed their management plans besides it being hard work they didn’t like holding public hearings required by rule. Some in the environmental community were supportive some not so much. Those that were a hindrance believed that they understood fire management better than our trained staff. I pretty sure I commented that if we are told the truth, we will find out that the California fires could have been either prevent or didn’t needed to be catastrophic as they became.

October 17, 2017 5:20 pm

“Global warming, due to human-caused carbon emissions, has worsened the already hot and dry climate in the most at-risk areas, like California.”

They couldn’t prove that claim if their lives depended on doing so.

A Huge assumption. There is no evidence of human-caused Global Warming. A good scientist would know that. How? By going and looking for evidence and finding none.

October 17, 2017 5:23 pm

So Smokey the Bear is at fault for the “mega-fires”?

Only _you_ can increase the size of forest fires…

Reply to  Kb
October 17, 2017 6:14 pm

Old Smokey was created by the US Forest Service and the lumber industry. Smokey began in the 1950s. His message was fine up to a point. It caused a misperception about natural fire, especially as people moved away from the land to big cities. During the 1990s fire some of our worst “fuel” build up problems were on lands that had been owned by the lumber industry which the state had purchased and now manages as environmental lands. Some had fire suppressed for decades. When they did/ do catch fire they burn extremely hot, hot enough to explode trees dispersing more fuel and burning even hotter, ultimately creating their own “weather.” Ironically some old lumber company forest lands that didn’t burn in the early 1990s we found it hard to control burn them later. Humidity and temperatures were such that were tough to burn. Interestingly once burned plants that had not been seen, some believed extinct, suddenly sprouted, grew and bloomed. I know of at least one bird that went extinct due to the failure of USWFS to follow their management plan which called for semi annual control burns.

Reply to  Kb
October 17, 2017 7:36 pm

We do not have a choice to not have fires…… only when.

If we do not have fires when conditions are mild and fires are easily controlled – which is also when we CAN put them out, so we do under current policy – we will eventually have them when conditions are so extreme that we cannot control them, so we get “megafires”.

It’s not that hard to understand, surely.

Reply to  Kb
October 17, 2017 8:26 pm

It has been suggested several times that Smokey the Bear should have been euthanized when found. To end suffering.

October 17, 2017 5:26 pm

Clear the under brush, problem solved. California has millions of convicts, put them to work clearing under brush. Prior to the environf*ckbags running anything people cleared under brush and wildfires were NOT as destructive as they have become in the last 35 years. The environf*ckbags need to be held criminally, financially and personally responsible for the deaths and destruction their sick assed, anti-human ideology has caused.

Roger Knights
Reply to  2hotel9
October 17, 2017 8:41 pm

Zhotel9: “California has millions of convicts, put them to work clearing under brush. ”

Just what I was going to say. Their locations could be tracked by ankle bracelet monitors. Brush cutting would do them more good than being cooped up all day.

Reply to  Roger Knights
October 19, 2017 9:10 am

Does not have to be chaingangs and dogs and whips. Ankle bracelet works quite well.

Reply to  2hotel9
October 17, 2017 9:08 pm

The hand crews in red or orange coveralls working on fire lines in N. California the past 10 days are the CDCR prison crews.

Reply to  Windsong
October 19, 2017 9:11 am

How did they manage to get THAT past the liberal crybabies?

John F. Hultquist
October 17, 2017 5:31 pm

Over a year ago we went to this presentation:
Land managers in Washington State have known what is needed, for years.
Tough country, little money, and scream of air pollution mean only a very little gets done.
Expect mega-fires in our future.
Individual home owners need to “Firewise.”

George Taylor
October 17, 2017 5:32 pm


George Taylor
October 17, 2017 5:39 pm

Baloney! I doubt it has anything to do with CO2. Try forest management neglect. As suggested, fuels have built-up over the past 20-100 years. Better forest management seems to be the best means for preventing or at least mitigating the destructive nature of these wild fires.

Gary Pearse
October 17, 2017 5:46 pm

Farmers, ranchers and woodfolk have known this for generations. Native people have known it for 10,000yrs. WUWT had an article on this in which an Ozzie farmer went ahead against the law to clear brush around his farmhouse and barn getting fined $50000. Shortly thereafter, a wildfire ripped through the district destroying several farms and killing two people- his farm was safe from the fire.

“Sciency” research especially from long corrupted biology and climate science is so naive and high school. Don’t these envro-mentally-challenged “Dick heads” see this?

Retired Kit P
Reply to  Gary Pearse
October 17, 2017 7:03 pm

When I move back to California in 1987, a piece of property in the Sierra foothills I looked at was so overgrown that you had to find a tall ponderous pine to climb to see if had a good view.

I was a little shocked at how much clearing was being done to put in a road, well, and building site. I talked to the D8 Cat operator. He told me after the first wild fire, I would be working my ass off to clear more brush with a chain saw on steeper places that he could not get to with a bull dozer.

A few months later, some idiot drove through Amador County pitching lit match books out the window. When I saw how fast fire raced up the side of hills, a started clearing more.

My niece lives in Santa Rosa and had to evacuate in the middle of the night but her neighbor survived. I talked to my sister who was telling me the fires was so intense that they were creating fire storms that jumped well established fire breaks.

Monna M
Reply to  Retired Kit P
October 18, 2017 6:53 am

Retired Kit P, I think you mean “ponderosa” pines, not “ponderous” pines. 🙂

Reply to  Monna M
October 18, 2017 4:20 pm

Ponderosa pines can be rather ponderous. Spell check tried to change my spelling on the first word right up until I hit post comment. 😉

Reply to  Retired Kit P
October 18, 2017 8:35 am

well, the pines are heavy an slow moving… 😉

Retired Kit P
October 17, 2017 5:56 pm

Nothing new here.

Wild fires made worse by past forest ‘management’ practices is the biggest environmental problem in the US now.

We also know what needs to be done. Modeling to identify optimum solutions are a waste of time unless you can come up with a way to stop groups like the Sierra Club from fighting everything in court.

There are lots of people and local groups who work hard to improve their local environment. However, I can not think of any examples where groups like the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Union of Concerned Scientist, ect rolled up their selves working up a sweat outside of court.

Reply to  Retired Kit P
October 17, 2017 6:24 pm

So long as lawyers representing the environmental organizations get a piece of the action we will continue to have lots of law suites. Tort reform is long overdue but the Democratic Party will scream with all sorts of bizarre reasons how it will impact the disadvantaged. The single largest group funding the Democratic Party are attorney and attorney organizations. Remember almost everything we do is more expensive because of law suits and too many attorneys. We have only a couple of vaccine producers left because of the fear of law suits. Drugs are more expense because of law suits. Malpractice insurance is through the roof. Even a doctor who has never had a claim filed against them pay large premiums. We were threatened with law suits when planning controlled burns and some agencies backed off until our elected officials reminded them the law suits could be even bigger if a wildfire happened and their organization had not followed their own statutorily mandated management plan.

I Came I Saw I Left
Reply to  Edwin
October 18, 2017 8:35 am

…we will continue to have lots of law suites

law suites in Fu Major

michael hart
October 17, 2017 5:56 pm

Lordy. I guess it was only a matter of time before climate scientists thought their models could tell fire-fighters how to do their job.

They are apparently so expert at everything that even sewage workers and refuse collectors must now be trembling at the thought of the approach the climate scientists. Will no one rid us of these troublesome priests?

October 17, 2017 6:03 pm

Of course forest management is the answer. I don’t think you could find a rational argument against it.

But, from where do the funds to accomplish it come?

Therein lies the rub. It’s not inexpensive or without risk, but it still needs to be done. Shall we mandate that homeowners in high risk zones clear their property or it will be cleared for them at their expense? That seems a bit onerous, as we do not require homeowners in flood plains to erect levees at their own expense. This is arguably a common good, but where do you draw the line for risky development and how much is the public willing to subsidize for eccentric lifestyles.

Reply to  rocketscientist
October 17, 2017 6:36 pm

We have a choice we can prepare through wise management to avoid catastrophes, e.g. better building codes, land management, etc or we can spend lots more money cleaning up the mess after an almost guaranteed coming disaster. President Reagan’s Secretary of Interior, James Watt, lambasted and hated by the Left and environmentalist, strongly pushed for a change in how we managed lands, development, prepared for and cleaned up after a natural disaster. Just one example, if you lived in a flood zone and were flooded government would pay for damage to your structure or pay for you to build somewhere else. You could even build back in the same place but when you were flooded again that would be it. In other words the risk was all yours. Don’t forget a large percentage the buildings and other structures in California are far from earthquake proof and the San Andreas is long overdue for a really big one. Though no one can say when it happened they didn’t know it was coming. I would rather deal with fire management or even hurricanes.

Janice The American Elder
Reply to  rocketscientist
October 17, 2017 7:43 pm

Forest management? Just bring back logging. Clear-cutting swaths through heavy woods is an excellent way to put in fire-breaks. It doesn’t cost the public any money at all, produces a bunch of jobs, and is an excellent to way to reduce the price of lumber. Pine forests, which cover most of the Western states, have a very limited life span. They actually do better when they are logged back on a regular basis. About a fifty-year cycle.

Reply to  Janice The American Elder
October 18, 2017 8:43 am

Janice, unfortunately these fires are not occurring in large federally owned parcels, but in poorly managed private lands and state lands. These areas are the untended road side canyons and neglected “parklands” where dead wood and detritus have been allowed to accumulate due to neglect. They aren’t huge parcels, but connect the various developments with “green ways” that have also been neglected.
Large clear cutting is probably not cost effective because access is limited and vehicular traffic is not possible because of terrain.

Rick C PE
Reply to  rocketscientist
October 17, 2017 7:51 pm

You could start by opening public forest land to selective logging and require the loggers to clear underbrush in the process. There are some amazingly agile machines for both operations. A tracked skidsteer with a brushhog attachment can clear a lot of brush in a day and leave behind a layer of chips that will decompose quickly and not burn easily. The value of logs removed could be sufficient to cover the brush clearing. Once this is done, regular control burns would be sufficient to reduce the risk.

Of course allowing private enterprise to make money from extracting resources from public land is totally unacceptable to greens and libs. So nothing will be done unless it’s funded by tax payers and done by politically connected contractors. I think that’s why the authors of this study concluded mechanical clearing is cost prohibitive.

October 17, 2017 6:55 pm

Where we really need to spend our resources on preventing dangerous, expensive forest and/or grass/shrub fires is Interface fires that impact cities, communities and peoples farms and rural housing. At the root of the problem is both a historical mistake such as total fire prevention policies from the 1950’s such a Smokey the Bear indoctrination, but also a total lack of leadership in implementing policies that many urbanites and environmentalists resist, such as tree and underbrush fuel management.

What we witnessed in BC and the Pacific North West this summer and California this week, is a result of those failures. The loss of human life and property is completely tragic and for the most part, avoidable with the proper planning and execution. Failure to implement aggressive fire prevention policies is a recipe for total disaster over time in our communities that are inside a forested or grass/shrub environment. Much of California had record rain this spring, which also assisted in a lot of understory brush and grass ladder fuels. So it can’t be blamed on CO2 or GW or CC for drought or additional heat. As soon as you have a week long heat event, everything is susceptible to burning. The fact that there is so much fuel available to burn is the proof.

October 17, 2017 6:59 pm

Fight fire with fire.

October 17, 2017 7:41 pm

Damage from fires -and floods and storms in general – is worsening in many areas because there are now way more people and infrastructure than there was just a few decades ago. Lots of building is going on in areas that are prone to bad weather events. But one has to live somewhere. As populations continue to grow, more and more sub-optimal habitat, insofar as people are concerned, will become occupied. There are solutions, but the greens want no part of them. So the future, I think, will see lots more death and destruction from weather related events. And that’s going to happen no matter what happens with respect to the climate.

October 17, 2017 7:49 pm

We must remember that for those who believe in the AGW conjecture, H2O is by far the primary greenhouse gas. Reducing gases in the atmospherem, makes wild fires more likely to happen. A warmer global temperature is suppose to cause more H2O to enter the atmosphere which results in more precipitation and less chance of wild fires. This is usually a rather dry time of the year in much of California. The record winter and spring rains coupled with a lack of fires for decades in certian areas have created a huge excess of fuel. Such a fire explosion was bound to happen. Apparently adequate preperations were not made to previent the large number of homes and businesses from burning. This problem has been going on for centurys yet houses are still being built that will end up burning down because of such natural phenomena.

October 17, 2017 8:17 pm

When the fires are small, why don’t they send out the “big guns”?

They seem to wait until the fires are out of control before they send in these great firefighting planes.

Instead of spending more money on windmills and solar farms, CA should use some of that money for more fire towers, early warning detection equipment, and forest fire fighting equipment – I would suggest.

I don’t understand after all that rain and snow recently, that CA wasn’t ready for fires from all that fuel when it got dry, why they don’t put out these fires when they are small rather than when they are “out of control”. In PA they have many many fire towers that spot any small fires that they can and put them out right away. Maybe CA should re-look at their initial fire policy. Maybe rather than focusing on “climate change” CA should put out fires when they are small…I’m being redundant…just sayin…

Reply to  J. Philip Peterson
October 17, 2017 8:45 pm

At least put out a fire that is going to be an interface fire that threatens a city or heavily populated rural area. What is the point of allowing your people to burn to death and billions in damages, when the fire could be put out very quickly in real time, or spend the money and effort to contain the fuels where you especially don’t want a very nasty fire that takes lives and costs billions in property damage, especially when you know that sooner or later it will. This is very serious stuff, bordering on criminal neglect, if not outright criminal neglect and homicide.

Monna M
Reply to  Earthling2
October 18, 2017 7:07 am

J Philip Peterson, the last Martin Mars water bomber in BC was retired in 2013 after 53 years of service. And in any case, the smoke was so thick this summer that the airports were shut down part of the time, so where would it have come down to get water?
It’s not the fault of the firefighters. At one point, they started a controlled back burn, then the wind came up and it got away from them. Their controlled burn became another forest fire.
Other commentators have rightly pointed out that the big fires today are the unintended consequences of 100 years of forest management.

Monna M
Reply to  Earthling2
October 18, 2017 7:37 am

Earthling2, interface fires ARE fought aggressively, but you can’t predict which way the wind will blow or how far sparks will be carried (they can fly for miles ahead of the fire, starting new fires). And a fire that is out in the middle of nowhere can be right on your doorstep within a few hours, not to mention the fact that resources can be spread pretty thin if you have several cities at risk at the same time.

Reply to  Earthling2
October 18, 2017 11:05 am

Yes, I know Monna M and I agree. These monster fires like this year in BC this year are almost impossible to control once it becomes a firestorm of gigantic size when they make their own weather and winds. The entire city and surrounding area of Williams Lake, BC got evacuated for two full weeks for concerns of an approaching firestorm mega monster wild fire approaching from dozens of miles away. It was both a bit luck
and hard work that saved another potential disaster of epidemic size.

My point was to really make sure you put out a fire in an urban/rural setting that will cost many lives and millions and maybe billions in damages. Witness Fort Mac last year where they were not able to control a couple of small fires that soon spiralled out of control when Initial Attack failed to knock them down when they should have been able to do so. Not only was there confusion with two simultaneous fires, one in town and the other out of town a few miles, the newly elected NDP Government of Alberta had cut $15 million out of the Initial Attack budget. Which I say allowed these fires and those damages to become what they were, regardless that it was a dry El Nino windy spring day just prior to green leaf up that allowed such a rapid blow up of an interface fire right in the city. Unfortunately, Canada paid no attention to the Filmon Enquiry after the 2003 Kelowna firestorm burned down dozens and dozens of million dollar homes. Failure to take action and implement common sense fire abatement in proximity to our rural/city forest interface guarantees more of the same destructive fire harm.

October 17, 2017 9:10 pm

What? Huh?

1) I live in Oregon and there are big fires in dry years and big fires in wet years. In dry years they blame the fires on the low fuel moisture and in wet years they blame the fires on additional fuels from growth.,

2) We had fires that moved through areas that were already burned recently (< 5 yrs) and they kept right on going.,

3) On medium sized fires half of the acreage that is burned comes from back burns.,

4) Prescribed fires are almost always too small in acreage to make a difference because a medium sized fire will go right around.,

5) Prescribed fires create a crap ton of smoke and ruin peoples lives with poor air quality for months each year.,

Something is seriously wrong with fire ecology. Things aren't adding up between theory and reality.

In my experience the same ignition can result in vastly different outcomes and it all depends upon wind. No wind – tiny fires.

Reply to  Archie
October 17, 2017 9:36 pm

The Chetco Bar fire (Kalmiopsis Wilderness in SW Oregon) this year is a good example of Archie’s points. Some of it burned through areas that also burned in the 2002 Biscuit Fire. The Biscuit Fire burned about 780 sq miles. One source I read, but cannot find now, stated that about 50% of that was from back burns (also known as backfires, controlled burns, burnouts and “firing”).

Rod Everson
Reply to  Windsong
October 18, 2017 8:00 am

A back burn or backfire is an emergency measure aimed at stopping an existing threatening fire. The existing fire is running with the wind and the back burn is set at a fire line or natural boundary like a river bank to burn slowly back into the wind toward the oncoming wind-blown fire. The intent is to create a burned gap that the wind-driven fire will not be able to jump due to the lack of fuel on the ground created by the back burn.

A controlled fire is not the same. It is a fire set when no main fire threatens that is intended to create natural barriers to a future wind-driven fire by removing all the fuel on the ground. This can be done in open, brushy, areas, or in stands of large mature trees because the trees are too tall to be threatened by the fire on the forest floor. Those same trees, however, might burn from crown to crown if a large wind-driven fire were to threaten them. The intent of the controlled burn is to prevent that from happening.

There are other controlled burns. For example, in the Midwest, small prairies are often burned in controlled burns because that’s part of the natural cycle of prairie growth. They are always done on relatively calm days when otherwise the fire danger is low. Back burns are usually set first to limit the risk of the wind coming up and jumping, say, a road or creek being used as a natural barrier, and then the entire acreage is set on fire. The same process is used to clear the undergrowth in small oak savannah prairies. Of course, most of these prairies are either small remnants of the large ones of long ago, or recently re-established ones where a farm or portion of a farm has been replanted with a prairie seeding.

On another note, I was in Sonoma CA in July. The range area was covered in tall, very dry, grass. I was told that unseasonal rains in late spring had resulted in a tremendous flush of grass on the range land compared to most years. It was obvious to anyone that tossing a match into any field would result in a fire with ample fuel to run for a long distance. And grass fires are quite hot if the grass is tall, so forest edges would probably light from an encroaching grass fire. I suspect the presence of all that grass will be found to be the reason that previously unthreatened cities like Santa Rosa suffered so much damage. I don’t know if it could have been cut when green and baled for livestock, but I suspect it will be in the future, or some other measure will be taken to control it near population centers and commercial establishments like the wineries. If you’ve seen some of the pictures where a line of fire is running over a hillside with few trees present, you’ve seen that grass on fire. Of course, the forests are another matter, and have been the subject of most of the discussion above.

Jeff of Colorado
October 17, 2017 9:23 pm

“In Scenario A, researchers mechanically thinned the entire area that is operationally and legally available – an unrealistically expensive endeavor in practice.”
Mechanical thinning has been done for years in Northern California when the thinned wood could be sold as bio-fuel. Without a bio-fuel market, thinning is not economically feasible. That market is totally controlled by the State and Federal governmental rules – these rules or how they are utilized regularly change. As a private timber land owner, some years you can sell bio-fuel and most years you cannot. Privately owned companies that use the bio-fuel to generate electricity have gone out of business when the rules turn against them. This uncertainty limits the number of companies willing to take the risk, which limits the number of locations where generators are built. Fewer generators mean higher transportation costs. The present rules in California force the purchase of bio-fuels, which allows thinning. Transportation costs would make this a financial loss if not for governmental subsidies – which increase electrical costs.
There are fewer lumber mills now in Northern California than in the past because many Federal lands were put off limits by environmental lawsuits, removing the source of the wood. The capacity to mill those Federal lands in addition to lands currently being harvested is lost. Forcing more timber on the market might lower consumer wood products (supply and demand) but would not significantly change the amount of wood products milled. Mills can be enlarged (some in-fact are) and new ones built (not so much) but that takes time and requires the mitigation of the financial risk. The lumber companies with the expertise and finances to do that are all targets of the Federal government, the Federal Courts and environmental groups.

Reply to  Jeff of Colorado
October 18, 2017 4:50 am

Spot on. The real problem is that limited sustainable harvesting of wood from the collection of underbrush, thinning, and collection of felled trees by locals has been made illegal.

Our forests are far too dense for their own good. But no one can perform an obviously needed thinning without permits filed in triplicate, lost, found, and buried in soft peat for 3 months.

Reply to  Jeff of Colorado
October 19, 2017 9:31 am

There are plenty of uses for the material from clearing underbrush and from logging, bio-fuel is a dead end, currently. The political left has bio-fuel so bound up in crap it is pointless to even discuss it until they are removed from the equation. The uses of ground wood products are well established, getting EPA out of the way will be a good first step, stripping away the roadblocks thrown up by DeptInterior and various state level interferenicks has to be done as well. The environmentally responsible have been pushed out of all of this by the environwackjobs who oppose everything simply on the basis of they don’t like it, whatever it is. Especially if “it” comes from anyone NOT part of their leftist political clique.

Warren Blair
October 17, 2017 10:37 pm

Live in or near flammable material in a ‘hot climate’ you increase your risk of death by fire.
In Australia some of our large city suburbs are literally in forests.
Fail to understand the increased risk . . . you’re the complete reference-standard moron.
There is no other way to put this.

October 18, 2017 12:52 am

A forest management article that doesn’t even mention fauna is just BS.

October 18, 2017 1:49 am

Suppression efforts are not current policy. All forests have controlled burns. West of Santa Rosa two years ago, a fungus was imported with some nursery plants. It got out into the oak forest of the coast and has been killing thousands then tens of thousands of acres of oak ever since. CA knew about it and concluded the problem was too big to control. Then a fires starts and it burns right through cities to the coast in all that dead forest.

Peta of Newark
October 18, 2017 2:49 am

oh dear. oh dear oh dear oh dear.
So many misunderstandings. So many simplifications. And on the part of the human animal, so much selfishness.
1. Extra CO2 does not make for a larger stronger healthier forest any more than me or you having 2 iced doughnuts for breakfast rather than just one.

2. Ancient indigenous people used burning exactly as we use ploughs or paddy fields. Namely to clear away what should be growing there (in Ma Nature’s rule-book) to what *WE* want to be there – either annual grasses or the critters (buffalo, cows, sheep, Bambi) that also eat grass. Because *WE* are lazy fuggers and forests are not good places for us to find the food we like. Trees are perennial plants so in a ‘bad year’ will produce little and we will starve. Trees also make it damn near impossible for us lazy buggaz to catch critters that we maybe *should* be eating.
Hence burning the forest, seemingly is a win-win for us. The clear space grows grass (seeds that we eat) or attract critters that we can also eat. They come to us instead of us having to chase them through what should be near-impenetrable forest.

Surprise surprise with all this bounty, romance flourished (boys give girls stuff and girls give babies in return) and THE most romantic stuff *evah* was/is= food.

Slight problem.
Every time you burn stuff, but especially forest, you take away something that would have otherwise remained there. Whether it blows away in the smoke or washes away when rain falls on the cleared (burnt and bare) soil.

A biologist such as we have ‘advising’ us here *SHOULD* know that. He should know about plants and what makes them grow.
By example and near were I am right now, is a place called Derbyshire. In older times, Derbyshire was (in)famous for something called Derbyshire Goitre. It made people ill and killed them and was simply caused by a dearth of iodine, within the soils and hence food of Derbyshire. IOW, the shortage of just one miniscule trace element was extremely bad for the people and presumably the plants that took it up from the soil and used/needed it.
The plants were ill and hence the people became ill.

And so it is with this forest and so many others around the globe – repeated burning (read= ploughing) has stripped them of the nutrition they need.

This is where mine, yours, ‘most everyone’s version of Edna Krabappell come in. Or the guy talking here.
Maybe they weren’t out-and-out mendacious in their teachings but they were ‘economic with the truth’ or maybe a bit over simplistic BUT, thee were wrong when they said that:
“Deserts have crap climates and that’s why no plants grow there”

The truth is more along the lines of:
“Plants don’t grow in deserts and *that* is why deserts have crap climates”

And the plants don’t grow there because of their version of the Derbyshire Goitre – something, maybe many things, is/are missing from the soil.

The depletion happens naturally so don’t feel too bad about it, but, the BIG But, is that farming, be that via actual ploughing, or burning or paddy fielding accelerates that depletion process and THAT is the big issue.

That this guy here, a doctor of Biology no less, doesn’t appreciate that and wastes time counting faeries and admiring his own reflection in a computer screen, is……..
Well, what is it.
Sad? Worrying? Funny? What?

Peta of Newark
Reply to  Peta of Newark
October 18, 2017 2:51 am

….,,, 2 doughnuts do not make us healthier than one (But you knew that)
Bigger but not healthier.

[Wonders how many doughnuts this guy gets through]

Reply to  Peta of Newark
October 18, 2017 5:08 am

You’ve never been hunting, have you, sport? If you had, you’d know how much desirable animal life there is in a forest. That includes everything from whitetail deer to squirrels, and critters in between. Lots of critters, and none of them require open space for sustenance. IN fact, they prefer wooded areas. And predators prefer wooded areas, too, because they follow the game trails, which usually follow the waterways.

Monna M
Reply to  Sara
October 18, 2017 7:45 am

If you are right, Sara, then why do the deer bother to go to the clearings?

I Came I Saw I Left
Reply to  Sara
October 18, 2017 8:13 am

Deer have a varied diet. In the woods they like tree nuts and some leaves, in the clearings they like grass and weeds.

Reply to  Sara
October 18, 2017 9:02 am

Actually, Mona, deer prefer corn fields, orchards, alfalfa… When these crops are not available they will deign to eat browse.
I have done a lot of deer hunting. Some of the best location for hunting is near the edges of farm fields and orchards. Deer will rarely venture out too far into an open field or even a sylvan meadow.

Reply to  Sara
October 18, 2017 5:22 pm

Clearings are only one part of deer habitat. If you knew anything about the habits of deer and other prey animals, you’d know that they usually only go into cleared-out spaces like meadows if the coast is clear. That is usually around twilight, both morning and evening. They prefer areas, where they have plenty of cover, including tall grass prairies. They’ve trotted right across the road in front of me from one tall grass field to the other, and they are quite adept at hiding right in front of you in daylight.

They also peel bark off of trees in the winter if there is nothing else to eat. While I’ve seen them come out of the undergrowth in winter, it is always to forage where the snow is shallowest.

And, yes, I have pictures.

Reply to  Peta of Newark
October 18, 2017 6:52 am

Umm… Wow, where to begin?
Deserts are such due to a lack of water big fella.

Your fire analogy regarding poor soils misses something greatly. If your analogy were correct that lack of fire would result in great levels of iodine and highly nutritious soils, then why are tropical rainforest soils so utterly lacking in those very same nutrients you espouse would be there?

Try taking a soils class in a reputable A&M university, or reading a book about what makes soils healthy.

I’ll give you two examples from the extremes:

Tropical soils are highly oxidized and leached of nutrients, generally acidic in nature and lacking in cation exchange capacity (the ability to retain and exchange essential nutrients). The limited nutrients available are continuously recycled in the A or O horizon (top layer, O is generally not present in tropical soils) as the rate of decomposition exceeds the rate of organic accumulation. Organic accumulation is only noteworthy in the northern regions of temperate climates or in some other limited location where there is a condition which limits microbial degradation of organic material such as leaves and wood.

The slash and burn farming dominant in the tropical regions of the world is done to release the already limited soil nutrients from the present organic matter, till it into the surface layer of soil, farm it a season or two and then move on. Tropical soils are very limited in nutrients because of excess rainfall leaching nutrients out of the root zone. End of story there.

Desert environments are such due to a lack of moisture, not lack of plants. The fact that some of the most productive farmland on the face of the planet exists in the once desert valleys of California is a testament to a few factors: the micro nutrients provided by the parent materials (rocks) are present because they have not been excessively leached from the soils by high rainfall, the length of the growing season is practically year round, and with properly controlled moisture levels the organic material present in the desert soils can be built up which increases the cation exchange capacity of the soil.

Desert and semi-arid soils are often high in exchangeable nutrients in the root zones because the nutrients have not been leached away. Livestock and wildlife grown in these regions will very often out gain similar animals grown in regions with far more fodder available in smaller areas. The plants contain a higher density of micro nutrients.

Fire has nothing to do with what you are asserting. If anything, fire releases K, Ca, P, S, B, Mg, Na, Fe, Cu, Mn from the material that is slow to decompose in these arid or semi-arid regions.

Example: I live in the Central Southern USA. A windfallen mature oak tree will be nearly completely decomposed in less than 10 years if left alone. Loblolly pine trees in 6 to 8 years are about gone. I can observe this first hand as I have been watching trees windfallen by Hurricane Rita in 2005, and tornadoes in 2010.

A mere 300 miles to my west, in the Hill Country of Texas, the same mature oak trees (though shorter) cut down for intended firewood 30 years ago by relatives are still present with bark on them. If fire doesn’t recycle the nutrients occasionally, what will? This same Hill Country environment has little to no juniper or mesquite present in historical pictures of the landscape. Today, a spark results in devastating blazes. This is another example of fire suppression allowing a normally suppressed specie to flourish.

Mr. Peta, we are speaking of two extremes. You are advocating that the excessive fire frequency stripped the landscape of an essential nutrient. I am stating that the excessive fire suppression results in the devastating soil sterilizing fires we see today.

Based on the education (M.S. Agriculture) and firsthand observations (use of fire on my own properties), burning when the landscape will support a sustained burn is optimal. The vegetation response is amazing, and the elemental and nutrient analysis of the same plant species does not support your assertions that fire results in nutrient depletion. It in fact releases essential soil nutrients from the built up fire fuels.

Have a nice day, sir.

Rod Everson
Reply to  PRDJ
October 18, 2017 8:05 am

Nice job PRDJ. And someone needed to do it.

Reply to  PRDJ
October 18, 2017 9:11 am

PRDJ, if water is the only missing ingredient for desserts to bloom. How does that account for all the water stored in huge reservoirs such as Lake Powell with such meager vegetation surrounding them? I had assumed that water is all the was needed, yet these places have it in abundance yet the flora is scarce.
There must be something else missing as well, or does the soil there have too much of an inhibiting substance?

Reply to  PRDJ
October 18, 2017 9:25 am

If the soils are exceptionally shallow and slopes are steep, much like the Texas Hill Country and much of California, then there is little soil moisture storage.

Valley lakes receive this runoff and store it in places where it otherwise would not have been stored.

An example I may use is Caddo Lake which is situated across the Louisiana/Texas border between Shreveport, La and Texarkana, Tx/Ark. This is the only naturally occurring major lake in the southern United States. Other than this single large lake in the southern USA, the only other major water bodies are rivers and some minor perennial streams fed by rainfall runoff or groundwater sources.

The northern California lakes are capturing what is predominately snow melt or the occasional Pineapple Express moisture.

Reply to  PRDJ
October 18, 2017 5:26 pm

Excessive fire – meaning excessive heat, intense and highly concentrated, kills soil bacteria necessary to promote growth of vegetation. Any farmer can tell you that, Peta.

Reply to  PRDJ
October 18, 2017 5:30 pm

Not to be snarky, rocket scientist, but ‘desserts’ are what you have at the end of a meal, usually something like apple pie with ice cream or perhaps a nice slice of pumpkin pie
with whipped cream.

I think you meant ‘deserts’, which are definitely not sterile, but support a wide variety of life forms including insects, small animals and hardy plants. Apparently, Peta has never been to a real desert. Even the Atacama Desert in Chile, a place with the lowest rainfall on record, will bloom in an astonishing array of flora if enough moisture spurs the dormant seeds to grow and blossom. They can literally lie dormant for as long as necessary and are still viable, even a century after the last rain.

Reply to  Peta of Newark
October 18, 2017 5:24 pm

Iodine is available in a long list of dairy products, fruits and vegetables. Has very little to do with soil. It’s also available in sea salt and ocean biota.

Reply to  Peta of Newark
October 23, 2017 12:15 am

“PETA” makes the fundamental error oridealising nature and imagining that people are not a part of it.

Firstly, in a climate that includes dry periods, fire is inevitable. It MAY be arguable thatall fires take something, but so do most natural processes.
If PETA had any real experience, PETA would know that the extreme fires that occur at the height of major droughts take far more than the mild fires lit by hunter-gatherers.

Extreme fires burn from horizon to horizon. There are no refuges in which wildlife can shelter during the fire, or take food post-fire. The are no unburnt patches from which fire-sensitive plants can propagate seed.

Extreme fires kill far more plants, reducing the surface organic matter in the soil to ash. Soil reverts to a mixture ofsterile ash, clay and beach sand.

Extreme fire destroys all the i ding agents in soil and the vegetation that stabilises it. The landscape is then more than normally susceptible to erosion. If you had ever seen the rivers choked with ash and silt following a major fire, you would understand.

The best solution is mosaic fire.. an environment in which frequently-burnt areas exist in the same landscape as rarely ornever-burnt areas. As previous posters have mentioned, many species need both cover AND food, moving from oneto the other as required. To argue for exclusively one or the other is to deny the benefits – the necessity – of diversity within the landscape.

October 18, 2017 4:41 am

CO2 is good for trees, it helps trees resist fire.

The importance of low atmospheric CO2 and fire in promoting the spread of grasslands and savannas.

Global Change Biology Volume 9, Issue 7, July 2003, Pages 973–982.


The distribution and abundance of trees can be strongly affected by disturbance such as fire. In mixed tree/grass ecosystems, recurrent grass-fuelled fires can strongly suppress tree saplings and therefore control tree dominance. We propose that changes in atmospheric [CO2] could influence tree cover in such metastable ecosystems by altering their postburn recovery rates relative to flammable herbaceous growth forms such as grasses. Slow sapling recovery rates at low [CO2] would favour the spread of grasses and a reduction of tree cover. To test the possible importance of [CO2]/fire interactions, we first used a Dynamic Global Vegetation Model (DGVM) to simulate biomass in grassy ecosystems in South Africa with and without fire. The results indicate that fire has a major effect under higher rainfall conditions suggesting an important role for fire/[CO2] interactions. We then used a demographic model of the effects of fire on mesic savanna trees to test the importance of grass/tree differences in postburn recovery rates. We adjusted grass and tree growth in the model according to the DGVM output of net primary production at different [CO2] relative to current conditions. The simulations predicted elimination of trees at [CO2] typical of the last glacial period (180 ppm) because tree growth rate is too slow (15 years) to grow to a fire-proof size of ca. 3 m. Simulated grass growth would produce an adequate fuel load for a burn in only 2 years. Simulations of preindustrial [CO2] (270 ppm) predict occurrence of trees but at low densities. The greatest increase in trees occurs from preindustrial to current [CO2] (360 ppm). The simulations are consistent with palaeo-records which indicate that trees disappeared from sites that are currently savannas in South Africa in the last glacial. Savanna trees reappeared in the Holocene. There has also been a large increase in trees over the last 50–100 years. We suggest that slow tree recovery after fire, rather than differential photosynthetic efficiencies in C3 and C4 plants, might have been the significant factor in the Late Tertiary spread of flammable grasslands under low [CO2] because open, high light environments would have been a prerequisite for the spread of C4 grasses. Our simulations suggest further that low [CO2] could have been a significant factor in the reduction of trees during glacial times, because of their slower regrowth after disturbance, with fire favouring the spread of grasses.

Roger Graves
October 18, 2017 5:30 am

Massive forest fires where brush has been allowed to build up are nothing new. In 1870 a huge fire almost destroyed Ottawa, Canada’s newly-minted capital city. The heavily forested region west of Ottawa had been settled by Europeans for less than a century, and most settlers had simply cut down the trees around them and left the brush lying on the ground. In August 1870, when there had been a three-month drought, a work crew clearing brush along a railway line west of Ottawa set fire to the brush. With a strong wind blowing at the time, the fire quickly got out of control. The resulting conflagration reached some sixty miles in extent and burned so hot that the ground was sterilised in many places. One survivor who had fought in the American Civil War a few years earlier said that when it reached a stand of trees near him the trees exploded with a noise like an artillery battery. People jumped into rivers and streams to escape but were killed by the heat when they had to come up for air. Entire villages were destroyed.

The only places to escape devastation were where more prosperous farmers had completely cleared the brush from around their fields. The city of Ottawa itself escaped devastation by mobilising almost its entire population to fight the fire, and by breaching a dam which flooded the streets with water.

October 18, 2017 5:38 am

Where I live, it’s a heavily wooded area. This small municipality has been putting in larger storm sewers to manage runoff because of the flooding rains in July.

The entire county itself is full of heavily wooded areas that have no undergrowth management at all. Some unimproved (no housing) lots are so awash undergrowth that merely getting into them will require a machete and whatever big mechanicals are available to clear out the junk plants, which are NOT native species. I’m referring to imports like buckthorn, which proliferate worse than rabbits. It is so thick that you cannot find a way into it, never mind hike it.

We have not had a true drought since I moved here 12 years ago, but the fire hazard is extremely real, and it is a hazard because this is a small, but settled community. None of the unimproved lots are parks or public land, so it’s the responsibility of the property owners to do something about it. I guess I should take pictures and go over to city hall and ask them to get the owners to clear out the stuff. The deadwood (dead trees left standing) on private property is the responsibility of the property owner, and we’ve had the pinebark beetle land here. But those trees have been coming down.

The real issue is that there are 62,000 acres of property that have been bought by the county to preserve the bucolic wooded nature of the country and make it attractive to hikers, winter sports people like cross-country skiiers and dog sledders, and birders and people like me who want to take a camera on a hike, to shoot wildflowers. The forest preserve management does do controlled burns in the spring, but I don’t know if they’re tackling the undergrowth problem the way they should.

If there’s a drought here, and someone does something really, really stupid, such as set of fireworks without a bucket of water handy, we are just ripe for disaster. The whole county is like this, never mind the collar counties around Chicago.

If you don’t understand how bad it really is, well:
– the coyote population has increased by leaps and bounds, and they will now tackle your pet dog on an evening walk, or your children at a school bus stop.
– the deer herds are becoming a real nuisance and permits are now issued to cull them in the fall, even if they are near suburban housing.
– goat herds are being used in some places to clear out nuisance plants, because goats will eat anything.
– The wetland areas that are supposed to soak up floodwaters are overwhelmed. And there are enough houses backed up against forest preserve areas, which are NOT being cleared of undergrowth that is simply fuel for a fire, to make any insurance company wilt over a fire damage payout.

Get away from the populated areas with all those lovely trees (that are killed by Japanese bugs like the emerald ash borer and longhorn beetle) and what we have is previously open prairie being used for farming.

I don’t know what the objection could possibly be to reducing fire risks in a populated area, but the mindlessness of some of the greenies is staggering. The more these “managers” fiddle with natural areas, the more they show their ignorance about how to manage it. It is so bad now that I wonder sometimes just how long it will be until we have another Peshtigo fire episode, because it’s coming.

Roger Graves
October 18, 2017 6:19 am

“the coyote population has increased by leaps and bounds, and they will now tackle your pet dog on an evening walk, or your children at a school bus stop.
– the deer herds are becoming a real nuisance”

I believe the two phenomena are linked. Deer hunting has rather gone out of fashion, at least it has in my area, so the deer herds are larger. Coyotes will feed on deer, particularly in the winter when deep, crusted snow will favor the lighter coyotes but slow down the deer. So, more deer = more coyotes.

In my area (I live close to a large forest) we can often hear coyotes bringing down deer in the winter: rhythmic yipping for a period, rising to a crescendo, then sudden silence, because it’s hard to yip with your mouth full. If we hear this often during the winter, you can guarantee there will be a plague of coyotes the following summer.

I Came I Saw I Left
Reply to  Roger Graves
October 18, 2017 9:52 am

I think abundance of coyotes is due more to paucity of guns than abundance of deer. I’ve never read about a coyote coming into a house to snatch Fifi the poodle when the owner opened up the glass door in places where coyotes fear humans. But I did read about that happening in a place where guns are considered anathema.

Reply to  I Came I Saw I Left
October 18, 2017 5:39 pm

I would say it’s both abundant food and low gun ownership. Most suburbanites live in the ‘burbs and work in the city. They are the type that want nature hikes, but won’t go hunting. For a while, professional hunters were being invited to come in and cull the deer herds, but now it is open season for anyone who wishes to hunt with gun or bow.

Also, the coyotes are larger than the western coyotes. They have wolfish characteristics, almost like the Tweed wolf, which is half red wolf and half eastern coyote. They are the size of adult German Shepherds and have red leg feathering and red tails, and sometimes red coats.

We also have cougars now, confirmed by an adult male cougar that made the mistake 2 years ago of finding his way into Chicago. It was determined that he had been born in South Dakota and got here by following the waterways, where the game are. I have seen opossum, raccoons, and skunks thriving when I lived in Chicago. And geese have been wintering on the waterways up here in the northern part of the state, unless it gets too cold. Then they go further south.

Reply to  I Came I Saw I Left
October 19, 2017 7:53 am

Here in PA the coyote population jumped because the Pennsylvania Game Commission imported coyotes during the last years of the 1990s, at the behest of auto insurers who want the deer herd reduced. Deer herd has continued to grow, coyotes are wiping out turkeys and other small game. We kill all we find, as stated they breed fast and are stealthy as hell.

Reply to  Roger Graves
October 18, 2017 11:11 am

Coyotes have large litters, sometimes >10. So their population can indeed grow very fast to exploit an opportunity. Or to recover from very low numbers.

Reply to  Roger Graves
October 19, 2017 8:09 am

Around major metro areas deer pops are exploding, as well as raccoons, foxes, opossums and coyotes. Lack of hunting/trapping and a superabundance of feed sources makes this inevitable. What is also inevitable is rampant disease in these populations, especially chronic wasting disease in deer herds and rabies in raccoons and foxes. People don’t want hunting and trapping. People want these animal populations controlled. The environloons come up with endless proposals to control animal pops, they would be comical if they were not so f**king stupid and/or dangerous. Hunting and trapping are the best solutions for these problems, and they left refuses to allow either, so the problem will just get worse, same as wildfires.

I Came I Saw I Left
October 18, 2017 6:22 am

I’ve looked at the aerial pictures of entire neighbors in California reduced to ash, and am somewhat puzzled. Can someone(s) please explain to me how this happens? I understand that the houses being so close together exacerbates the problem, as well as the fierce winds. I am puzzled, though, to see so many unburned trees in those same neighborhoods. I can only conclude that the infernos started via embers on roof tops. But that seems odd because it would seem that such a fire prone area would mandate fireproof roofs (e.g., metal). One photo baffled me. It was a rural property surrounded by mostly grass and a few trees. None of the trees or grass were burned, but the house was a pile of ash. That one almost seemed like arson of opportunity..

Monna M
Reply to  I Came I Saw I Left
October 18, 2017 7:55 am

The house fire could have been started by a spark on the wind, and “sparks” can be pretty big chunks of burning wood. Sometimes they will fly right over one house and land on top of another.

I Came I Saw I Left
Reply to  Monna M
October 18, 2017 8:03 am

Do you know what type of roofs are typically built in those areas? Asphalt shingles? Cedar shakes? Other? It would be very easy to build a roof fire suppression system.

Reply to  I Came I Saw I Left
October 18, 2017 4:17 pm

“roof fire suppression system.” Thats called a “metal” roof.

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