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Carbon Emissions Bad, Forest Fires Good

From a context free BBC News:

Learning to love forest fires in Yosemite National Park

By Peter Bowes
BBC News, Yosemite National Park

When southern California is consumed by fire, the state employs an arsenal of equipment and manpower to battle the inferno. The key priority is to save lives and homes.

An increasingly familiar image of America’s Golden State is of water-bombing aircraft dousing the flames as they lick around million-dollar mansions on the hillsides.

But in Yosemite National Park, in central California, fire is viewed differently. The forest needs to burn to survive, although fire was once thought to be an enemy of the region’s giant sequoia trees.

People used to think that the park’s beautiful trees needed to be protected from fire, according to Gus Smith, a fire ecologist.

"Fire looks destructive and dangerous and would kill organisms made out of wood," he says.

For decades, through public service messages, people were encouraged to believe that all fires were bad.

Aggressive measures were taken to fight fires, since the perception was that the flames were a wholly negative force in the national park.

The Smokey Bear campaign, which started in 1944, promoted the message: "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires."

Using colourful posters, it was an attempt by the US forest service to educate Americans about the dangers of forest fires.

‘Decades of fuel’

But scientists have come to realise that years of suppressing fire in Yosemite prevented the trees from reproducing.

Excluding fire from the ecosystem allowed leaves and other vegetation to build up around the trees. The litter stopped seeds from germinating in exposed soil and a dense canopy of foliage blocked the sunlight from reaching the forest floor.

"I think that we need to see more fire and the benefits of fire," says Mr Smith.

"Without fire we already know the forest gets too dense with trees. When they get too dense, as the litter builds up more and more, you end up with more and more fuel, decades and decades and of fuel.

"We know that the longer period of time between fires, there’s more fuel, fires are burning hotter these days, but if we have frequent fires, it consumes those fuels, and then fire can never be this great destructive force."

Forest management techniques have changed in recent years.

Fires are often deliberately started, under controlled conditions, to burn away the excess debris on the forest floor.

Thinning out the vegetation also means that when a fires does break out, it cannot turn into a massive inferno.

When fires burn in Yosemite they are usually started by lightning strikes. The flames are rarely above a metre high and they move relatively slowly through the forest.

"In the lower elevations, where we have excluded fire for decades, we have started fires ourselves under very tight controls – prescribed conditions to try to mimic the natural fire regime," explains Dr Jan van Wagtendonk of the US Geological Survey’s Yosemite Field Station.

"We do that under those very tight prescriptions of air temperature, relative humidity, moisture content and wind speed.

"But also, because we’re dealing with decades of accumulated fuels, very often the fires that we set are not as hot or as intense or severe as the natural fire regime.

"Our goal is to bring back the fuels and forest structure to the point where we can allow natural fires to burn," says Dr Wagtendonk.

Whether or not to set fires poses a dilemma for the forest’s managers. It also highlights the competing values of visitors and ecologists.

"We have smoke in the valley, but without that smoke, we don’t have a healthy forest," says Gary Wuchner, fire information and education manager for Yosemite National Park.

They are constantly balancing the needs of nature to what visitors expect, he says.

"It’s tough for our public affairs office to say; ‘I understand you’re having a wedding today but we’re also burning the meadow today.’ We have a balance there and it’s a tough one to strike," explains Mr Wuchner.

Limited resources

In 2001 Smokey Bear’s message was modified to: "Only You Can Prevent Wildfires."

The new mantra makes the distinction between wildfires, which are unwanted, unplanned and damaging, and forest fires which can often be beneficial.

Fine-tuning the message can be difficult when images of southern California burning are so frequently seen in the media and resources are stretched to the limit.

All methods cost money but Mr Smith believes the key is using a variety of methods to tackle and prevent the fires.

"I believe we need a toolbox that’s bigger than just protection and suppression," he says.

Would it be wrong to ask: if scientists could be so wrong about something as fairly simple as forest fires, what else can they be wrong about?

But now (and for some time, actually) we are told by ‘scientists’ that letting forest fires burn is the environmentally right thing to do.

Nobody seems to be bothered by the carbon footprints of such huge fires. But how much of any alleged carbon uptick can be traced to this (relatively) new policy?

It is in place in most of our western national parks and national forests.

"We have smoke in the valley, but without that smoke, we don’t have a healthy forest," says Gary Wuchner, fire information and education manager for Yosemite National Park.

Some might say that ‘without smoke we don’t have a healthy economy.’

But trees trump humans every time.

By the way, as we have noted previously, the BBC was one of the news organizations that sat on the CRU emails rather than to report them to the public.

This article was posted by Steve on Thursday, December 3rd, 2009. Comments are currently closed.

9 Responses to “Carbon Emissions Bad, Forest Fires Good”

  1. Liberals Demise says:

    What will the carbon footprint be when the “DOINKS” rub elbows in the snuff Capital of the world, Copenhagen?

  2. proreason says:

    Steve, you might have missed the key point on this one.

    “The new mantra makes the distinction between wildfires, which are unwanted, unplanned and damaging, and forest fires which can often be beneficial.”

    It’s all about wise management you see. A BAD thing (carbon emissions, expensive health insurance, risk-management by private industry) can be a very GOOD thing when managed by genius commissars (Turbo-Timmy, Drooling Barney).

  3. bill says:

    Hey when you add in third worlder’s agricultural fires …

    Here is a site worth checking out …http://firefly.geog.umd.edu/firemap/
    Shows where the fires are burning using the Aqua satellite … MODIS imager puts up an image a day of interest … http://modis.gsfc.nasa.gov/

    So why aren’t we putting out fires?

  4. VMAN says:

    And how much less would the carbon footprint be if men went in with bulldozers and cleared the under brush? Oh but we can’t do that!!! If they let the people in Califoolya simply clear the brush around their houses it would cut down on fires but that might kill a snail darter or some squiglly little worm.

  5. Zilla says:

    We should tax the forest fires. And the Polar Bears.

  6. joeblough says:

    Incoherent premises lead logically to incoherent conclusions.

  7. mbeeman4@hotmail.com says:

    I have a better idea, rather than burning the forests to thin the forest population out: how about letting the loggers and paper companies come in and thin the forests out for you? Let’s use these trees, rather than placing more carbon in the air with a fire. That would truly be called managing nature. Maybe a Sequoia or two needs to come down.

    By the way, I have a question: what do the firefighters do about the tree huggers? When they do their controlled burning, are the tree huggers simply considered “collateral damage?” Just let the loggers cut some trees down; that way, a tree hugger will only break a leg, or something, when his tree falls down, rather than losing his life in a controlled burning.

    • canary says:

      They are insane. They have been genetically changing trees and shrubs to grow in shade. They have produced the 60′-100′ Blue Atlantis to grow only 1′ tall for ground covering or 30′ with more limbs. They have hybrid pre-annuals towards evergreens, and hybrid trees and bushes to grow in the shade. It’s amazing. Then there are many trees such as elm, poplar, oak, maple, that can grow fast in the shade from a seed, though they shed leaves. They are even crossing two different trees to make a fast growing healthier tree.

      The Park isn’t even leaving the small sticks so greenies like my neighbor who has a lawn mower on a long extention cord, to compensate for her constant huge hand picked firebuilding pits.

      one of those CSI fiction shows had a murdered, sexually mutilated tree hugger mystery along with a pun on the loss of nuts.
      See what the Democrats have stirred up now with their list of sexualobias that must be tolerated. Didn’t watch and see who committed the murder, but law enforcement statistics would say the signs would point to a homosexual as the murderer. Does law enforcement have to change all their books to use the word gay, tree hugger, etc.

  8. The Redneck says:

    They refuse to burn when they need to or allow fires to burn naturally–or, even better, Beeman, allow those eeeeeeeevil loggers to thin any trees–and even stop people from clearing brush on their own land….

    Then Algore tells us that massive, destructive wildfires are proof of global warming.

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