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Time To Fight Fires With Fire, Watchdog Group Suggests

Monte Kawahara / Bureau of Land Management / Flickr

The Detwiler Fire burned more than 80,000 acres in Mariposa County, California, in July and August of 2017.

Monte Kawahara / Bureau of Land Management / Flickr

A California watchdog group is calling to change the way forests are managed — including controlled burns of at least a million acres.

The Little Hoover Commission, a watchdog group tasked with questioning the efficiency of state programs, recommends in its new study, Fire on the Mountain: Rethinking Forest Management in the Sierra Nevada, immediate action when it comes to reducing the risk of damage from fires.  

Pedro Nava, the chair of the bipartisan commission, recommends starting with prescribed burns — where fires are lit on purpose as a management tool — to thin out areas of overgrown forest.

“We know that a forest that has been thinned in that way doesn’t burn as hot, doesn’t burn as long and is not as dangerous,” Nava said.

Nava says this practice should start on a large-scale immediately and that at least a million acres of forest need treatment.

“On average, a prescribed burn costs $200 an acre,” Nava said. “A wildfire with all of the costs associated with it is about $800 an acre. So, pay me now or pay me later.”

The study further lays out nine recommendations for decreasing the probability of large-scale fires, such as the Thomas Fire and the Detwiler Fire from 2017. The recommendations include controlled burns and expanded funding for disposing the 129 million dead pine trees in the Sierra Nevada.

The commission recognizes this will take a collaborative effort and require significant investment. The study was sent to the governor.

The California Forestry Association already supports the commission’s findings. The group’s president, Rich Gordon, says the organization is putting together a statewide initiative to boost forest health.

“Drought, disease and wildfire, have no boundaries — making it important that everyone from small to large landowners, state and federal lands, work collaboratively across jurisdictional boundaries to protect one of our most precious natural resources,” Gordon said.

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