Limiting forest homes would aid CDF’s job, but at what cost?
The rise in fire calls reported by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection last year is another reflection of a story with great long-term implications for Nevada County and its neighbors.
CDF answered 1,300 fire calls in Nevada, Placer and Yuba counties last year. That’s a dramatic increase from the 1,033 fire calls the year before, and CDF officials say the number has risen steadily since 1995.
The cause? Simple. More people have chosen to live in the woods. And that’s a development with great historic and ecological implications.
Already the ecological implications have spilled into the political arena. Historically, fire swept through the floors of the Sierra forests, and the health of the forest depended on its regular cleansing by fire.
But fire no longer is an acceptable tool to manage the health for the forest. Fire threatens too many interests – the interests of people who have chosen to live in the forest despite its dangers and the interests of those who want to protect their investment in timber from the hot fires that burn through overgrown forests, to name but two.
In many respects, the current debate over the forests of the Sierra boils down to this: Should we protect those who choose to live in the forests by harvesting some of the trees or by using fire to reduce overgrowth? Or should we let completely natural conditions prevail, even if it means people will lose their homes?
As the CDF report makes clear, every new house in the forest – whether it’s built by an ardent environmentalist or an ardent supporter of private property rights – makes the search for solutions more challenging.
(Then, of course, is this factor: When even the most careful people live in the woods, their activities increase the possibilities of fire. A lawn mower blade strikes sparks which land in dry grass. We increase the sources of ignition even as the changing ecology increases the sources of fuel.)
The answers, we suspect, will be complicated. None of them will satisfy the ideologues of the forest. But people concerned about the future of the community need to stay engaged with this question.
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