The Forest Foundation sees opportunity to avoid future California wildfire disasters

SACRAMENTO: While each passing year sees increased devastation and record-breaking losses from wildfires, The Forest Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to forest sustainability and public education, said it is optimistic that growing interest in better managing California’s forests will help the state avoid future catastrophes.

While there’s a tendency by federal and state policy makers to blame a rise in devastating wildfires on either climate change or poor forest management, understood euphemistically by some as raking the forest floor, science reveals that in reality they are caused by a mix of factors. According to The Forest Foundation, explanations and proposed solutions are too often over simplified, and poor forest management is inappropriately blamed as a root cause when there should be a focus on forests that lack any management.

“The emphasis should be on implementing good management practices that when effectively implemented on a broader scale will increase forest resiliency against disease, insects and wildfires,” said Mark Jani, forester for the Mendocino and Humboldt Redwood Companies, member of the California State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, and The Forest Foundation board member. “There are too many forests today that aren’t being managed at all, which dramatically increases the risks.”

According to The Forest Foundation, several science-based management strategies can be used to restore forests to a healthier condition, ideally in combination with one another.

Thinning is one option, especially for forests that have become overgrown and overly dense. Another is controlled burns in the fall or spring, which reduce flammable material. By creating zones of reduced vegetation in or around communities and along roads, which also serve as fuel breaks, it’s possible to lower risk by removing natural fuel sources. And, finally, replanting with appropriate species and spacing helps ensure healthy forest growth decades into the future.

Implementation of these strategies, however, is difficult and requires persistence and broad cooperation, according to The Forest Foundation.

In particular, California forests are owned by a wide array of entities, divided like a jigsaw puzzle. Ownership includes lumber companies, federal and state government, trusts, ranchers, conservation agencies, indigenous tribes and small private landowners, each with its own priorities and goals.

“Management of forests is complicated by numerous land ownerships fracturing an ecologically intertwined living system. Without cohesive initiatives, only marginal improvements in avoiding future fires can be achieved,” Jani said.

The Forest Foundation sees hopeful signs of collaboration. California Governor Gavin Newsom, for example, is working with the current federal administration to expand management initiatives across federal and state boundaries.

“Now is the time to tackle this problem together,” Jani said. “State and federal governments must be joined by all types of landowners to work cohesively toward a holistic plan that is as intertwined as the forest ecosystem itself.”

Based in Sacramento, The Forest Foundation works to educate Californians about the benefits of sustainable forestry.

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