Thursday, September 20, 2007

Things NOT To Do: Move to a Fire Trap

If the story of California is the story of its water resources, the story of its alpine forests is the story of human mismanagement, natural conflagration and rising fire risk. Unfortunately, we humans are taking what you might call a "counter-adaptive path" to living with that risk.

I admit, I love the Sierra Nevada, the mountains that John Muir called "the range of light." And I've often entertained the thought of us one day moving to the foothills just to be closer driving distance to that magical place. But every time I pass an expanse of burnt-over forest, the black charcoal-encrusted snags and the baked ground between them, and every time I picture the video of a raging foothill forest fire, I wack myself upside the head. What am I thinking????

So, fear has squelched my dream of living in the foothills but there's more than enough people to replace folks like me. In terms of risk management, California is not doing a very good job of it since the number of people moving into these drying, dying forest areas on the Western slopes of the Sierra increased by 16% during the Nineties. And 94% of planned new home development is also within high fire danger areas. What are they thinking????

"There is a tremendous amount of population growth going on in these extreme fire danger areas," said Autumn Bernstein, the [Sierra Nevada] alliance's land use coordinator and the author of the 45-page study, entitled "Dangerous Development: Wildfire and Rural Sprawl in the Sierra Nevada."

"Unless Sierra counties can start to change the way they are growing, we are going to have a much bigger fire problem on our hands," she said.

Like all forested lands, the Sierra is subject to the weakening of its forests by changing climate and the infestations that prey on vulnerable trees. The forests will only become more flammable with time.

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