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WITH 17 LARGE wildfires in California igniting in 24 hours this week, October is shaping up to be a brutal month for wildfires, as it often is. It’s too soon to know what caused multiple conflagrations spreading across Northern California’s wine country, but elsewhere in the state dead and dying trees have been the subject of much concern. The five-year drought in California killed more than 102 million trees on national forest lands. That is a gigantic problem in itself that will lead to huge wildfire risks in the future and big changes in wildlife habitat.
With that huge number in mind, it is easy to forget that the forests were already in a sorry state. It’s now widely understood that a century of misguided – but well-intentioned – policies over the past 100 years produced forests that are too densely packed with small trees and too vulnerable to possibly catastrophic fires.
Water supplies are also a concern, because the forests are nature’s water-storage sponges. They capture snowfall and release it slowly, helping Californians survive long, dry summers. But there’s also a concern that overgrown forests consume too much water, and that thinning some forests could generate more runoff.
A new report by the Public Policy Institute of California proposes some different approaches to begin chipping away at the problem. It recommends some changes in state law and new contracting practices, among other things. It also suggests some changes in public attitudes.
To learn more, Water Deeply recently spoke with Van Butsic, the study’s lead author. Butsic is a land system scientist with a Ph.D. in forestry; he works as an assistant cooperative extension specialist in the University of California, Berkeley, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management.