Hot Spot – August 2021

Aug 12, 2021

Foresters in Congress – American forests are unhealthy, and it will take an act of Congress—maybe several—to change that. We have had the tools at our disposal to reduce and prevent fires and, still, wildfire “season” has become a year-round problem. This month’s Hot Spot highlights legislators and key legislation with the most potential to make a difference in the fight for forest health.

Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman is the top-ranking Republican on the House Committee on Natural Resources. He recently joined Congress’ new Conservative Climate Caucus. With Westerman’s background as a forester, perhaps Steve Brawner of the Southwest Times Record said it best, when he commented, “Westerman is the only member of Congress with the professional training to see both the forests and the trees.”

Instead of debating whether climate change is responsible for recent catastrophic wildfires, Congressman Westerman focuses on what we can do to prevent them. He has introduced several pieces of legislation, including this latest which provides a risk management framework based on fire sheds [1], to consider proximal fuel sources that threaten community safety, regardless of land manager. A fire shed may be defined across public lands, private property, tribal land, the Bureau of Land Management and/or National Forests.

By thinking in terms of fire sheds and assessing risk according to how fires spread across them, we will be able to identify the highest risk communities and prioritize accordingly. Once identified, it’s a matter of quickly applying the science:

  1. Clear hazardous brush,
  2. Thin dead and decaying trees, and
  3. Provide healthy space for remaining trees to grow with sufficient space to prevent crown [2] fires

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[1] Fire sheds are defined landscape areas that face similar wildfire threats where a fire management strategy can affect fire outcomes. Fire sheds are associated with extremely high risk of catastrophic wildfire.

[2] Crown fires climbing into the canopy of a single tree and spread from tree to tree at an uncontrollable rate.

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