A nationally known and controversial voice on forestry issues will have the Placer County Board of Supervisors as an audience today when he presents his views on reducing the damage from wildfires by leaving fewer trees in the forest to burn.
Thomas Bonnicksen, a visiting professor at the University of California at Davis, has devoted much of his adult life to studying and writing about the state’s forest. An expert in sequoias, the largest life form on earth, the former National Park Service ranger favors removing scientifically selected trees and using prescribed fire when and where it is safe.
A restored forest is the first and most effective line of defense against wildfire while a firebreak is a last desperate line of defense, he says.
Bonnicksen’s views haven’t been shared by many Sierra Nevada environmentalists and forest scientists, who see him as a forest industry foil for cutting larger trees, said Terry Davis, conservation program coordinator for the Sierra Club’s Mother Lode Chapter.
Forest companies are using the threat of wildfire to try to justify more logging in the Sierra, he said.
“We generally feel that his science is not good,” Davis said. “We believe that he’s being trotted around on behalf of the timber industry.”
Bonnicksen will address the Board of Supervisors at 11 a.m. today. He’ll travel afterward to Carnelian Bay for a 6 p.m. community forum in Carnelian Bay. Sponsored by Supervisor Bruce Kranz, the free, public forum will be held at Gar Woods Grill and Pier, 500 North Lake Blvd.
Kranz first heard Bonnicksen’s presentation in January at a meeting of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and convinced supervisors to include the forester’s talk in a future session. At the time, Kranz said that Bonnicksen was drawing parallels between the Tahoe area and conditions that existed before catastrophic Southern California fires in late 2003.
“We are honored to have an expert like Dr. Bonnicksen visiting Placer County” Kranz said. “His analysis of current forest conditions in the Lake Tahoe area is a wake-up call for us to do a better job maintaining a forest that is less at risk of forest fire.”
Kranz said supervisors have a duty to both inform the public and support the efforts of fire departments to avert catastrophes similar to Southern California’s.
As well as his work in Davis, Bonnicksen serves on the scientific advisory board of the state Forestry Foundation in Auburn. He has been a member of several congressional fact-finding missions, including investigations of the 1988 Yellowstone National Park and 2003 Southern California wildfires.