The biggest game-changer you and I will ever face is an over-heated planet, and the climate crisis it’s spawning. It’s already transforming the way we live, how we earn a living, and what we eat — even whether we will eat! It’s also changing the paradigm of how we cope with wild-land fire, because the priorities of climate mitigation now trump those of wildfire.
Think of it like this. Say you discovered that the city sewer was flooding your basement. You’d immediately call for help, and set about rescuing what you could. But what if in the thick of that, a tornado warning was issued. Would you continue with the sewer; or prepare for the tornado?
The USDA Forest Service and the Greater Santa Fe Fireshed Coalition developed the Santa Fe Mountain Landscape Resilience Project: an initiative to actively manage 50,556 acres of the Santa Fe National Forest adjacent to the city.
In Dec 2018, the Project was given teeth. The President declared wildfire a “fuel problem,” rather than a climate problem, and directed the Forest Service to increase its “active forest management” — which is Forest Service-Speak for more logging, thinning, and prescribed burns.
To its credit, the Santa Fe Fireshed Coalition does recognize climate change.
However the climate science they’re posting is more than a decade old; and in that time a lot has changed — especially in our understanding of the speed at which the change is progressing. You can find a good up-to-date summary of the current view in Leonardo DiCaprio’s new climate documentary on HBO. For now anyway, you can view it here for free!
We at Tree Hugger Santa Fe think that our mushrooming climate crisis has already blindsided the Resilience Project, and that the Coalition either doesn’t get it, or doesn’t want to admit that the priorities of climate stabilization now conflict with those of “active forest management.”
Climate stabilization requires cooling our overheated planet.
This is accomplished by keeping carbon in the ground, in the forest, and in plant-life where it’s needed for photosynthesis; and that we immediately stop dumping it into the atmosphere, where it only traps heat and further exacerbates the problem.
Dr. Chad Hansen writes: ”Contrary to popular assumption, high-intensity fire patches produce relatively lower particulate smoke emissions (due to high efficiency of flaming combustion) while low intensity prescribed fires produce high particulate smoke emissions, due to the inefficiency of smoldering combustion.
Therefore, even though high-intensity fire patches consume about three times more biomass per acre than low-intensity fire (Campbell et al. 2007), low-intensity fires produce 3-4 times more particulate smoke than high-intensity fire, for an equal tonnage of biomass consumed (Ward and Hardy 1991, Reid et al. 2005).
As a result, a landscape-level program of prescribed burning would cause at least a ten-fold increase in smoke emissions relative to current fire levels, and it would not stop wildland fires when they occur (Stephens et al. 2009.)”
The Resilience Project is “a landscape-level program of prescribed burning.”
Given the premise it starts from — that wildfire is the result of too much fuel — the Resilience Project makes perfect sense. But the premise is wrong. The primary cause of the increase in both the number and intensity of wildfires isn’t fuel load. It’s the climate-driven extremity of weather conditions (chiefly temperature, humidity, and wind speed) at the time of the fire.