“We’ve been suppressing the fires,” said Terri Hardy, acting executive director of the Little Hover Commission. “The result is dying and unhealthy forests that impact everyone.”
Now, there are more dead trees in the forest, which add fuel to wildfires.
“Over the course of our study, we started with 102 million dead trees in the Sierra,” Hardy said. “And now, there are 129 million dead trees.”
For example, the explosive Rim Fire that ripped through the Sierra in 2013, burned some 11 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, generating air pollution equivalent to 2.3 million cars on the road, according to the report.
The Little Hoover Commission recommends that, instead of trying to suppress fires, California should be reducing the number of dead trees by fighting fire with fire.
The commission concluded California is also burning money.
“If you look at the difference in the cost for prescribed fire, it’s $200 an acre, as opposed to $800 an acre fighting wildfires.” Hardy said.
That’s why an inmate crew was working on Monday to eliminate dead trees and underbrush in a controlled burn in the Auburn State Recreation Area.
“The more fuel that there is, the hotter it burns,” Cal Fire Capt. Joe Madsen said. “It’s important for us to have less fuel so we can get closer in, to actually put our fire lines in.”
In recreation areas, wildfires are a constant threat.
“With a recreation area as popular as Auburn, we’re looking at a million visitors a year,” said Scott Liske, a supervising state park ranger. “The potential for someone being careless with fire is there.”
That’s why Cal Fire is working actively with rural residents to create at least 100 feet of space surrounding their homes, where flames cannot reach them.
“We have an aggressive goal of doing 250,000 defensible space inspections,” Cal Fire Unit Chief George Morris III said. “That’s partnering with landowners to take care of their fuel reduction efforts.”
The California Forestry Association released a statement Monday afternoon in response to the report, saying it supports the commission’s findings.
“That’s why our members, who represent more than four million acres of privately held forestlands are being proactive in their approach. Our members manage their forestlands in a way that protects both our environment and economy. But they can’t do it alone,” Association President Rich Gordon said in the statement. “Drought, disease and wildfire have no boundaries, making it important that everyone from small to large landowners, state and federal lands, work collaboratively across jurisdictional boundaries to protect one of our most precious natural resources.”