What should we do?
District One Susan Gorin email: Susan.Gorin@sonoma-county.org
District Two David Rabbitt David.Rabbit@sonoma-county.org
District Three Chris Coursey firstname.lastname@example.org
District Four James Gore email@example.com
District Five Lynda Hopkins firstname.lastname@example.org
Board of Supervisors phone number: (707) 565-2241
Your elected officials know the facts: to mitigate the destructiveness of wildfires, the fuel load must be reduced. It's up to us, the citizens of Sonoma County, to demand that they act on this. Get in touch with your city or town council to see where they stand. Then let the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors know you'll be watching to see what they do. Contact information for the Board appears below:
The simple truth is that wildfires are part of the ecology here and have been for thousands of years. But it is possible to reduce the destructiveness by employing land management practices that are well known and have proven effective.
A report issued after the Sonoma Complex Fires in 2017 (2017 Sonoma Complex Fires
Post-Fire Vegetation Assessment and Planning for Landscape & Community Resiliency to Fire) produced by Tukman Geospatial, Ag + Open Space, Kass Green & Associates, and Baseline Consulting, provides a succinct set of next steps needed for Sonoma County to see a future without yearly devastation from wildfires. It includes information from Carol Rice, an expert in fire behavior and fire ecology and co-author of the book Managing Fire in the Urban Wildland Interface. She listed the highest land management priorities for increasing Sonoma County's resilience to fire:
1) Clear dead vegetation and shrubs from near roadways.
2) Remove eucalyptus and knobcone pine. In addition, Monterey pine (Pinus radiata), another fire pine, is a flammable species that was introduced to our area and should be removed when possible.
3) Manage for oak woodlands. In many areas of the county, our forests are transitioning from oak woodlands to Douglas fir and Douglas fir-California bay stands. We should manage for oaks by removing stands of these types of trees. Oaks do not crown and distribute embers nearly as easily as Douglas firs. They can still torch, but they do not spread fire crown-to-crown readily, unlike many conifers.
4) Create more open forests. We should thin dense stands by removing some of the smaller understory trees. This type of thinning reduces overall fuel loads and reduces ladder fuels. Reducing ladder fuels can help keep a beneficial ground fire from turning into a stand replacing crown fire. Controlled burning in our area has been proven to reduce wildfire severity. Thinning the understory is vastly different from clear-cutting, which can increase the severity of subsequent forest fires.
Fire scientists say that not all fire is bad. Indeed, wildfires are a part of the California ecosystem. It's up to us to understand how we can accommodate ourselves to the environment and not try to suppress what is natural. A September 2020 Pew article entitled "California May Need More Fire to Fix its Wildfire Problem" lays this out clearly: “The war against fire has got to end,” said Craig Thomas, founder of the Fire Restoration Group, which advocates for more controlled burns to restore healthy forests and prevent large, destructive fires. “I'm running out of words to talk about what we need to do. We've been telling the story for quite a while.” The longstanding default position of suppressing every fire has created problems throughout the West, and tribes in many states are working to restore traditional burning practices. But nowhere is the issue more evident than California, which Thomas described as “one of the most naturally flammable landscapes on Earth.”
The wisdom of keeping vegetation in check and using "good fire" (controlled burns) to manage the land is nothing new. Native tribes have used "good fire" to sustain the land for thousands of years. In her book "Tending the Wild," M. Kat Anderson describes the active land management practiced for millennia by indigenous California tribes. "Through coppicing, pruning, harrowing, sowing, weeding, burning, digging, thinning, and selective harvesting, they encouraged desired characteristics of individual plants, increased populations of useful plants, and altered the structures and compositions of plant communities. Regular burning of many types of vegetation...minimized the potential for catastrophic fires..."
In the southeastern United States, prescribed fire has been widely used for years, to great effect. And there are a few local groups, C.O.R.E. and the Good Fire Alliance, in which neighbors help one another to prepare for and mitigate fire danger.
Although these common-sense and effective measures seem straightforward, they have not been used in Sonoma County widely enough to make a difference. See: What stands in our way?
"So far this year, an area nearly the size of New Jersey has burned inside California.
That seems like a lot, but until European colonization, this was normal, according to fire ecologists. Much of the American West was intentionally burned by humans. Smoke and fire were common, but the conditions were rarely devastating, and the burns were a central part of Indigenous culture.
"Our tribe recognizes that fire is a gift from Creator," Valentin Lopez, chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, told Business Insider Today. "It was a gift that allowed us to have warmth, to have light. It was very important to manage landscapes."
"Our people did that for thousands of years. And then came the horrific brutal periods of colonization and tribes were not allowed to burn anymore."