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USFS: Forests Might Not Recover From Butte Fire

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

The U.S Forest Service is assessing the damage and considering next steps to restore the landscape in the Butte Fire area.

Nearly 71,000 acres burned in Amador and Calaveras counties in September. A team of state and federal officials visited areas affected by the blaze Wednesday.

Much of the burn area is completely devoid of life. The trees are blackened sticks. Large areas suffered "high severity" burns, which means no vegetation survived the extremely hot flames.

"We don’t have any trees there anymore," says Barnie Gyant, a deputy regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service. "No seed source for natural generation so when we look at this drought and what this costs on these fires are in the region, it’s a system gone bad."

In other words, decades of fire suppression has resulted in hotter more devastating fires.

Gyant says high severity burn areas are becoming more common in today’s "mega-fires."

He says the forest destroyed in the Butte Fire isn’t likely to grow back unless trees are replanted manually – which will be very expensive and time consuming.

USDA Under Secretary Robert Bonnie also toured the area this week. He says climate change is bringing a new era of wildfires to the west. 

"Fire seasons are 78 days longer than they were three decades ago," he says. "We've probably seen a  doubling in the last 30 years from about 3.5 million acres to north of 7 million acres, this year we're north of 9 million acres," he says.

During the same week in September, the Butte and Valley fires in northern California destroyed 140,000 acres combined.

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