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From the December 2013 Battle Mountain News

posted Jul 6, 2014, 5:02 PM by Joe Christy

Fire in Pre-Historic and Historic California

Last month, 65 people gathered at Bonny Doon Elementary School to hear wildfire scientist Scott Stephens give a very interesting presentation on fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I'd like to share two of the high points here.

Working with his then-student Danny Fry, Prof. Stephens examined tree ring data from redwood fire scars on stumps in Woodside covering the period from roughly 1500 to 1800. They found that prior to the arrival of the Spanish, the fire return interval in our redwood forests was 9-15 years. Based on accounts of early European explorers and interviews with tribal elders we know that these fires were set by people as part of their standard land management practice. In redwood forest, this was probably to make it easier to hunt game and harder to be surprised by grizzly bears. More remarkable is the fact that every study of fire pre-history throughout the state shows that this pattern was universal; native Californians actively managed their environments with regular low intensity fires.

The 19th century saw the nearly complete de-population of native California and the cessation of their land management. The 20th century brought a nationwide policy of fire suppression, with the dramatic result that forests went from having 20-80 trees per acre to over 200 today.

In the last 40 years, the change in the impact of wildfire on Americans has been dramatic. In the 70's about 200 homes were lost nationwide per year; in 2011, over 2,000 homes were lost in Colorado alone. More than half of the wildfire losses in the United States are in California. Twelve of the 20 largest wildfires in California history have taken place in the last 10 years. Globally, the three countries with the greatest challenges from wildfire are, in descending order, Australia, California, and France.

An End of the Year Appeal

This is the time of year when all non-profits are appealing to you for donations. We are no different. Against the backdrop of the previous paragraph, we have seen grant funding for fire prevention in California go from roughly $10 million in 2008, to a high of roughly $20 million in 2010, down to just over $4 million this year. Clearly, if the Fire Safe Council is to survive we must depend on local funding. You can join the Fire Safe Council for $20 per household annually. If you can afford it, a larger donation would be most gratefully received. As an all volunteer organization, we have no overhead; all of our budget goes directly to fulfilling our mission