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A Path to Reducing Reducing Wildfires 

Environmental Policy Brief #147 | By: Haley Moore | August 30, 2022

Header photo taken from: Center for Disaster Philanthropy

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The Inflation Reduction Act contains historic provisions to tackle climate change and takes steps toward fulfilling a longtime Democratic policy goal: letting Medicare negotiate the prices of some prescription drugs.

Photo taken from: Bill Clark / Getty Images

Policy Summary

A new law ensures a future for forests with the environment in mind. 

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was passed into law on August 16, 2022. $375B will go to aid the climate crisis over the course of the next decade. 

$4.8B will be allocated directly to forest conservation and restoration. Through years of research and devastating wildfires, scientists have learned how stand density and vegetation management both play a crucial role in wildfires. 

Policy Analysis

Early forest scientists were focused on planting and manufacturing a high level of forest products. Over stocked forests increased stand density  — a mathematical equation that forest specialists use to describe how many trees are planted per acre — of certain regions, primarily California and the Pacific Northwest. 

These scientists did not adequately factor in the risks of developing these products like protecting homes and ecological values. 

In addition, early forest planting created problems for the climate in those areas by releasing too much carbon in the air. Cool moist winters and hot dry summers, that are only getting warmer, create a near-perfect ecosystem for wildfires. 

Professor Emeritus J. Kieth Gilless, from University of California Berkley, in an interview with US RENEW NEWS, said that IRA funding toward wildfire prevention will primarily go to vegetation management. But, it won’t eliminate wildfires. 

“It may create more opportunities for establishing a control point on them before they get larger.” said Gilless, “And perhaps more importantly, they may reduce the intensity of the fire on the ground.”

Gilless says folks in the west have learned to co-evolve with forest fires. 

“We all remember waking up to an orange sky in San Francisco,” said Gilless.

Diving deeper into the sticky weave of climate policy, part of the new federal  funding will go to climate smart forestry and  boosting carbon sequestration. 

ClimateSmart Forestry (CSF) is a collection of strategies and management actions that increase the carbon storage benefits from forests and the forest sector, in a way that also supports ecosystem services and cultural values. It 1) reduces carbon emissions, 2) increases forest resilience to climate change, and 3) supports forest economies by increasing forest productivity and incomes.

 


Conceptual and empirical models that address the impacts of climate and land-use changes on forest vulnerability need to focus on landscape dynamics and vegetation processes, integrating disturbance strategies.

Chart taken from: Springer Link

(click or tap to enlargen)

Gilless said the issues for something like climate smart forestry gets tricky because there is a lack of market for low value wood which makes thinning operations very difficult. Thinning reduces stand density and thus, can reduce how fast a wildfire spreads. 

“We have to think about how we set in motion a stand after a fire or a harvest to achieve forest products and achieve landscape, but in a fire resilience way,” said Gilless.

Gilless says boosting carbon sequestration is important in forest management because you want to capture as much carbon as possible without catastrophically releasing too much. Thankfully, forest and wildfire researchers are already working to solve these complex issues. 

“I think there is an increasing realization there that we need to get a handle not just on the visible impact of the fire on infrastructures and ecosystems — but also on the public health impact of imposing that long lasting air pollution,” said Gilless. 

For folks who live in areas where wildfires are prevalent, Gilless said following local wildfire regulations is crucial to reducing hazards. In addition, he advises against wood roofs and recommends investing in a fire-resistance one. 

“Change the vents in your attic to make sure embers can’t go in there. A lot of houses burn from wildfires because embers blow through vents and ignite the house from the inside,” said Gilless.

No amount of funding will ever eliminate wildfires, but there are several ways legislation and the public can work together to prevent them. 

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