Here’s a sobering fact: of the twenty largest fires in California’s entire recorded history, twelve were in the last five years. So why are California wildfires getting worse? Why are they increasing in size and intensity so much that new terms have been coined like “megafire” and “gigafire”? And what can we do about it?
Some wildfires are actually good for forests
In some places, like California, trees grew up with fires as part of their natural ecology. They even drop needles that create a flammable mat for low-severity wildfires to burn, clearing the ground and some smaller trees so the forest doesn’t get too dense.
However, since the arrival of colonists, forests in California have been used for resource extraction and recreation, and State and Federal governments have done everything they can to prevent and suppress wildfires. This may have reduced the number of low-severity fires, but has also allowed dense forests to grow into highly flammable tinderboxes for the huge fires we are seeing today. Climate change has exacerbated this problem by causing extreme heat and drought.
It’s not just the size of today’s fires that is worrying, it’s how hot they are. Most native species and systems didn’t evolve to survive fires of this intensity, with high temperatures that kill organisms in the soil, destroy native seed banks and wipe out older trees.
So what can we do about wildfires?
Some forests were born to burn. To restore them, we need to protect them from bad fire and then carefully reintroduce good fire back onto the landscape.
In this video we meet two of our partners who are on the ground in California. American Forest Foundation is working with private landowners on fuel reduction projects, thinning out private forests and laying the groundwork for good fires in the future, while American Forests is thinning and restoring forests on public lands in ways that make them more resilient in an evolving climate.
Watch to find out more about the tools we have to bring healthy cycles back to our landscapes, and what we need to do to get there.