SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The question over who or what is responsible for California wildfires is back on the national stage, but political and community leaders have been debating it for decades.
Malcolm North, a research scientist with the US Forest Service and an affiliate professor at the University of California Davis, believes it’s time for a radical new approach.
“Some of the frustration I think that the [scientific] community feels is that there’s [an]… amount of a partisan politics that’s [crept] into this issue, trying to say, ‘Oh, it’s all forest management,’ or, ‘It’s all climate-driven,’” North said. “And the truth is that any particular fire has some combination of both of those things affecting it.”
North said it’s time to think proactively.
“We really need to make an upfront commitment to proactive use of fire,” North said. “I mean, the thing that a lot of this revolves around is that fire is inevitable in these landscapes. You can’t keep on putting it out. You’re going to get it one way or another.”
North said the forest management of the past 150 years is what’s built up a fuel situation that’s driving most of our current problem wildfires.
“It would be much better if we had that fire on our terms,” North suggested. “You know if you’re doing prescribed burning when you actually set the conditions and the timing of it, you can burn when the smoke’s going to be lofted high away from people. You can burn when the climate conditions, the weather conditions, are much [milder] so you’ve got really good control over the fire. And then the fire is burning and doing ecological benefit to the forest.”