For nearly 50 years, wildland fires have burned freely in select national parks across California to prove that frequent fires strengthen resiliency against both wildfire and drought when allowed to burn and smolder in the underbrush for months.
Just like human populations, forest populations (made up of trees) vary by size and age. Some trees are healthier than others. Similar to healthy humans, healthy forests have to be able to grow their young (trees) and regenerate. Wildfire suppression interferes with this balance, causing forest overgrowth and weakened tree stands. Allowing wildland fires to burn limits wildfire severity and increases the amount of water available during a drought. Healthy trees create more oxygen to help the forest heal. While drought conditions worsened over the last half-century and wildfire severity increased to catastrophic proportions, these test beds did the opposite. If left to nature, wildfires create small gaps in the tree canopy allowing more water from snow and rainfall to reach the ground while simultaneously reducing the number of trees competing for water resources. The increased soil moisture contributed to lower tree mortality during drought years and streamflows increased slightly, even as streamflows declined in other similar watersheds.
Berkeley scientists believe climate change is less than 25% responsible for current fire problems in California, with the majority being due to aggressive fire suppression. Code Red status won’t end until political and public institutions are less risk averse and can tolerate some unpredictability and severe burning in places that have had very little fire. The longer we wait, the more fuel sources build up, the larger the wildfire will be when it is finally ignited.
Swan Score: A-
A healthy fire ecosystem reduces risk and insurance premiums
Fire Protection Association
Fewer firefighter injuries and fatalities in deep forested areas
Let-it-burn strategy increases biodiversity and forest resiliency
More frequent, smaller fires give industry opportunity to learn
Local governments reject let-it-burn forest restoration strategies