Big Bear Lake, CA, USA — The San Bernardino National Forest and the communities in and around her are a regional treasure. Those fortunate enough to reside in our Mountain Communities live in a region surrounded by blue skies and spectacular views. For those of us living in the valleys below, the mountains provide a respite from heat and smog that is only minutes away. For Southern California, the mountains provide year-round leisure activities summer through winter. Our Mountain Communities are an integral part of our local and regional economies.
Unfortunately, this natural resource is not being properly managed. Even after the Old Fire and the clearing of thousands of dead trees from the Bark Beetle infestation, a tremendous fire hazard still exists endangering residents, visitors, private property and our economy. The reasons are simple, and so are the solutions.
Since the arrival of Western Civilization to this region, our society has systematically attempted to reign in Mother Nature. In our forests, we have been immensely successful in extinguishing fires. So much so, that the San Bernardino National Forest has four times the trees per acre than it had historically. Fire has always played a part in the forest ecosystem by keeping the tree population and other growth in check and allowing some species to propagate. The elimination of fire has allowed our forests to become overgrown, exceptionally dry, and prone to infestations and massive fires like the Old Fire.
If society intends to continue to eliminate or at least severely limit fire from the ecosystem, than we have an obligation to manage the forest to artificially maintain its balance. This has been accomplished in other areas of California by my employer, Southern California Edison (SCE). SCE currently owns and manages 20,000 acres at our hydro-electric facility at Big Creek in the Sierras. With biologists making the decisions, 2 million board feet of timber is selectively cut every year and a portion of the forest floor is cleared with controlled burns. SCE has successfully restored a once clear-cut forest to its natural state of over 100 years ago. In so doing, the risk of massive fires has been greatly reduced and the costs of management are offset by the sale of timber and the limitation of naturally occurring fires that otherwise cost millions of dollars to fight.
There is another advantage to this effort. With the restoration of the natural ecosystem, the area around Big Creek has seen a resurgence of its once dwindling deer, Bald Eagle, osprey and general wildlife population.
What our region lacks is real leadership on the issue of proper forest management. Simply cutting down dead trees is not a solution–it is actually the existence of too many young trees that feed a fire up into old growth trees. Defensible space around cities and population centers has minimal impact-windblown fire storms can travel hundreds of yards from unmanaged forests into residential areas. Even the aggressive proposal by the City of Big Bear Lake to limit residential vegetation, while a thoughtful and smart effort, will not save Big Bear if a massive firestorm is ignited in the surrounding forest.
The County of San Bernardino, City representatives, community leaders, environmental organizations, and local media must unite and force the Federal Government to the table. Unfortunately, County leadership seems stuck on cutting a few dead trees instead of pursuing long term solutions and placing political, community, and media pressure on those entities that should be solving the problem.
By bringing together the numerous stakeholders, we can develop a solution that includes all of the aspects of proper forest management, with the guidance of biologists and other scientists, to solve this ongoing problem. Proper forest management techniques have already been developed and proven in other areas. It is time to bring those methods to our mountains. The City of Big Bear Lake should not be forced to go it alone while everyone else watches from a politically safe distance.