May 6, 2008

Up in Smoke: Reforesting California after wildfires

The problem I have with Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and Life Cycle Analyses (LCA) is that they attempt to measure only the impact of a new project upon the status quo. They stop short of analyzing what will occur if no attempt at remediation is done. Below is the finding of one report based on data secured from the Forest Service. It seeks to compare action to inaction rather than just the environmental impact of the project itself.

California Losing More Than 30,700 Acres of Forestland per Year
Federal Government's Replanting in Wake of Fires Lags

Following the 1992 Cleveland Fire in the Eldorado National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service replanted some lands, and left some untouched in an experimental ecoplot. Today, trees stand more than 17 feet tall on replanted lands, but brush dominates the untreated ecoplot.

AUBURN, Calif., April 29, 2008 - California has lost forests on federally owned land at the rate of more than 30,700 acres per year over the last seven years because of a lack of replanting following catastrophic forest fires, according to a review of Forest Service data by The Forest Foundation and the National Association of Forest Service Retirees.

The 30,700 acres lost annually is equivalent to losing a forest slightly larger than a city the size of San Francisco. If this failure to reforest federal land in California were to continue over the next 100 years, this would lead to the loss of 3 million acres of forestland and conversion into brush fields.

From 2001 to 2007, over 143,500 acres of forestland outside wilderness owned by the federal government has not been replanted and has been left to turn into brush.

"The federal government is consistently unable to replant and restore forests following devastating wildfires," said Doug Piirto, department head for the Natural Resources Management Department at California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo and a member of the Forest Foundation's Scientific Advisory Panel.

"The result is a loss of forestland and a loss of all the benefits these forests provide - from filtering our water to absorbing greenhouse gases," Dr. Piirto said. "We need to commit ourselves to restoring our forests by doing all that is necessary: preparing the land, reforesting and following up with the required maintenance to ensure a healthy forest in the long term."

On the heels of tree-planting celebrations last week to mark Arbor Day, the deforestation on federal forestland stands in stark contrast.

Over the course of the seven years, a total of 304,000 acres of federally owned forestland were deforested, with just 88,900 of those acres replanted. As a result, nearly 71 percent of the previously forested land has been replaced by brush.

The loss of forests limits the amount of carbon that could be absorbed by forests in California and help the state's fight against global warming. According to the non-profit group American Forests, a restored acre has the ability of absorbing and storing 200 tons of carbon dioxide - or the equivalent of absorbing carbon emitted by 35 minivans.
"This deforestation deprives future generations of the forests we have enjoyed," said George M. Leonard, Chair of the National Association of Forest Service Retirees and former Associate Chief of the US Forest Service. "Without replanting, the land turns to brush and becomes even more susceptible to another fire and more devastation to forestland."

In 2007 alone, more than 100,000 acres of national forest land in California were burned into a deforested condition due to wildfires, compared to approximately 50,000 acres in 2006.
"Replanting has long been the policy and practice of the Forest Service," Mr. Leonard said. "We must maintain that tradition and not allow tens of thousands of acres to be lost at a time when our forests are more needed than ever."

In 1993, for example, following the 1992 Cleveland fire in California that consumed more than 20,000 acres, reforestation occurred - leaving us today with trees that are 15 to 20 feet tall. As part of an experiment, a small "ecoplot" was left untouched to see what would happen. Today, that land is filled with brush.

Unlike government-owned lands, private forest landowners quickly remove dead trees and other fuels for additional fires and then replant. For example, after the 2000 Storrie fire in Plumas and Lassen Counties, local private land manager W.M. Beaty and Associates removed dead trees and fuels on the 3,200 acres it managed that burned in the fire. Its reforestation efforts, including the planting of nearly one million trees, were completed by 2004. Some trees in this young, mixed conifer forest are more than 7 feet tall.

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1 comment:

Alan said...

Burnt more than actually planted. And everyone is steering toward the alternative energy resources ignoring the fact that wildfire prevention and reforestation are very crucial to fight global warming too. Massive urbanization by cutting down old trees and valuable plants is not the correct way to confront the issue. We all can drive a zero emission vehicle. The absence of plantation can also endanger the environment. I lived in a city for over 10 years in Hong Kong. Last time I went back for a visit I could hard breath. True story.