Active Forest Management Will Reverse the Trend of Intensifying Wildfires
For the second time in just eight months, a California wildfire has cemented its status as the state’s largest inferno on record. The Mendocino Complex Wildfire has scorched nearly 300,000 acres and will likely continue to burn until September. This wildfire, along with 16 others in the state and over a hundred throughout the western United States, points to the disturbing trend that involves increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires.
A number of factors contribute to the development of wildfires, but active forest management – and a lack thereof – plays the largest and most direct role. Active forest management, not to be confused with clear cutting, involves conducting controlled burns and periodically thinning out a forest’s dead and dying trees. These practices help promote forestry health and greatly reduce the risk for wildfires.
Without active management, trees in overcrowded forests struggle to compete for limited water supplies, leaving many to die or dry out completely. The accumulation of dry trees has proven especially hazardous given California’s recent droughts. This combination of intense drought and dead vegetation buildup spells disaster and largely explains recent upticks in damaging wildfires.
Active forest management helps to foster economic opportunities in addition to contributing to forestry health. The timber industry supplies an impressive $600 billion to annual global GDP and employs over 13 million people worldwide. By practicing active forest management, we not only prevent wildfires but we also provide jobs and income for those in the timber industry, which is often a crucial component in rural western economies.
Despite the clear environmental and economic benefits that result from active forest management, radical environmentalists express fierce opposition to the practice, citing concerns for the habitats of critical species. Their concerns for these species are mostly superficial, as they say little when massive wildfires engulf entire habitats. Adhering to their traditional tactics of creating fake outrage, radical environmentalists also liken active forest management to clear cutting and attempt to mask the practice’s many advantages.
Hostility towards active forest management is becoming a thing of the past thanks to Secretary Zinke’s leadership and new strategies at the Department of Interior. Secretary Zinke has made preventative management strategies a priority and has ramped up investment in fire fighting technologies, including the launch of a cutting edge drone program. This new direction at the agency will go a long way in reversing the trend of intensifying wildfires.
This year is on pace to have one of the most devastating wildfire seasons on record. Fortunately, we have the ability to limit the damage caused by these increasingly destructive wildfires. By capitalizing on the environmental and economic benefits of active forest management, we can preserve our community structures and most importantly save lives.