Rainfall in the California highlands and coastal ranges far exceeded both expectations and norms in just a few short weeks this winter. Whilst praising the temporary stay of drought (some homeowners were immediately affected by mudslides and floods), few have looked towards the upcoming severity of wildfire season. Over the course of a decade, fire season has expanded, and now, can hardly be said to end – even in the face of torrential downpours.
That is, regardless of regional water capture, wildfires will still storm in excess (as compared to the historical average, itself now hopelessly useless). Rain shortage weakens plant systems, leaving both roots and canopies more directly susceptible to fire sparks over the entire year. Rain excess generates rapid plant growth, which later dries, becoming kindling for future fires. Both extremes are the result of temperature and weather extremes for which forests have not previously evolved.
To resolve this problematic is to engage deeply in forest and human ecology. Increasing acceptance of prescribed burns must translate into action; budgetary holdbacks preclude such preventive actions, affording spending only for more-costly firefighting. Awareness of prescribed burns must change as well, emphasizing the potential for reduced fire ‘severity and intensity, not occurrence’. Moreover, systemic idealization of wilderness continues to hamper public understanding of civilizational interactions within the environment. The vast parkland that arriving European conquistadors witnessed in North America was the result of active human management of range and forestlands, not natural occurrence.
Unless the naturescape is completely eliminated, it will continue in two veins, with or without human interference. The latter option is no longer possible: attention devoted to isolating development from wilderness has rendered each utterly disaffected, both degraded by the cycle of reactionary growth. Active management of land necessitates the intermixing of nature corridors and the abnegation of clear divides between forest and development. But so too is the discouragement of forest residences necessary.
Political will, unfortunately, is absent for any abovementioned action. Capital is too overtly tied to the status quo and American environmentalism is exceptional only in its retroactive stance. Wildfire, prefixed mega-super-once-in-a-thousand-years, will be tolerated until public coordination accelerates truly long-term thinking.
[Creative Commons Photo]