Bookworm of Edwards hosts wildfire researcher, author June 23
Special to the Daily
IF YOU GO …
Who: Gary Ferguson, author of “Land on Fire.”
When: 6 p.m. Friday, June 23.
Where: The Bookworm of Edwards.
Cost: $10; includes appetizers.
More information: Call 970-926-READ or visit www.bookwormofedwards.com.
“We are living in a land of fire.”
That’s according to author Gary Ferguson and his research on wild fire in the American West. Case in point: 11 out the past 17 fire seasons have seen single blazes that burn more than 100,000 acres. These huge mega-fires are a new threat to American ecology in an otherwise long history of natural burns.
“For thousands of years forests have been kept healthy by fires,” says Ferguson, who has written about nature for 35 years. He will discuss his newest book, “Land On Fire,” today at The Bookworm of Edwards.
Robust fire seasons
“Before European settlers, fires had been considered maintenance fires that were started by non-human factors. Every eight to 10 years, a fire would move through a forest clearing out debris from the forest floor,” he says. “Over it’s movement, the fire would eliminate insects and pathogens restoring the health of the forest.”
These natural forest fires allowed for the spacing of trees and clearing of debris, as well as killing harmful bugs and controlling bird families. But at the turn of the 19th century, our fire departments and government became aggressive in suppressing any and every fire.
“Today, fires are occurring at a more robust level. Fire season has grown about 75 days — due to climate change and zealous suppression from the fire department,” Ferguson says.
Throughout the years of fire suppression, fuel loads started to build up creating a non-natural forest floor in the majority of our forests. Ferguson says that currently 300 million acres have unnaturally heavy fuel loads that were not burned away in natural forest fires.
In addition, the interaction between natural vegetation and human structures causes a problem for forest fires — a problem that is accentuated by climate change.
“We have recently had the hottest five years of planet Earth,” Ferguson said. “This year, January 2017 was the hottest January in human history. With all of this heat, it increases the burn-ability of forests, especially when droughts have been stressing the trees.”
Focus on fire suppression
With increased drought and hotter seasons, we will continue to see trees die off across the West.
“In 2016, California had 60 million trees die. Thinking forward, we now have 60 million dead standing trees. All will drop over a decade, creating fuel loads on forest floors tempting the land with fuel for the next mega-fire,” Ferguson warns. “Mega-fires are going to accentuate the severity of climate change.”
Not only do mega-fires affect our landscape, living situations and health, but they are also affecting our wallets.
Ferguson reminds readers that fire suppression falls back on the American people.
“The financial cost of fire suppression is 4.5 billion dollars per year. That money isn’t coming from the federal government — instead it is landing on local community fire departments,” he said. “When a fire hits, the threatened town has no choice but to hand over the money, forcing tax increases on a local level. The effect of fires simply cannot be ignored.”
Nicole Magistro is the owner of The Bookworm of Edwards. For more information, visit http://www.bookwormofedwards.com.