May 29 2013

Moving into the Future: Planning for Wildfires in the Sierra Nevada Region

Following another dry winter in the Sierra Nevada Region, wildfire risks are on the rise in Northern California and the season has just begun. A study released by UC Merced found that fire risk in California will double over the next forty years, and potentially triple in the Sierra foothills by the end of the century largely due to climate change and land development. In response to this increased risk local, regional, and national policies need to be implemented that promote smart land use development and encourage sustainable forest management practices.

Winter Forest shot

California Governor Jerry Brown blames climate change for the early wildfire season and the forecasted severity of the upcoming season. However, aside from the global issue of climate change – which is absolutely contributing to increased wildfires (more snow falling as precipitation due to warmer winter temperatures equals less snowpack and dryer summer conditions and drought) – poorly planned land use development has increased the threat of wildfires across the U.S. In the Sierra, development has sprawled into forested areas, especially in the foothills, and in periphery counties such as El Dorado, Fresno, Madera, which means increased fire risks to residents.

Summer Forest shot - Tahoe

The debate over best management practices for suppressing future wildfires is somewhat touchy in California. Many interests and issues come into play, especially with the knowledge of how important a role Californian forests play as carbon sinks, dividing groups over management practices such as fuel reduction versus natural burns. Carbon sinks aside, we know the climate is going to get warmer and that difficult decisions at the regional level need to be made concerning tactics for fire suppression and fuel management. Additionally, at the local level, county general plans need to address the issue of increased wildfire threats in their counties and encourage sustainable land use and development patterns that concentrate growth in urban centers, and prevent irrational growth into at risk areas.

What are your thoughts? Do you live in an area at risk for wildfires? What are some issues that might divide your community over best management practices, timber interests, development interests, divided environmentalists’ opinions, and more? Please share your comments below.

Credits: Photos by Amanda Christian. Data linked to sources.

Alex Riemondy

Alex Riemondy is a recent graduate of Florida State University with a Bachelor of Science in Economics and Environmental Studies, and a Certificate in Urban and Regional Planning. Her interests in urban planning first stemmed from a cross-country bicycle trip in support of affordable housing. During the trip she became fascinated with connecting communities through the development of safe cycling routes. On a bike, she is constantly thinking about her urban environment and how it can grow to meet the needs of her community. Although currently living in Hummelstown, PA - having recently returned from working on a permaculture farm in Costa Rica - she plans to pursue a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning in Southern California. Finding happiness through connecting with her community and environment, she is most interested in improving citizen quality of life though: bicycle and pedestrian planning, green street design, and increasing citizen participation in the planning process.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 29th, 2013 at 9:03 am and is filed under Energy, Environment, Government/Politics, Land Use. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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