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  • Adding fuel to a fire is usually not a good thing, especially when it comes to forest

  • are already wrecked by massive fires every year. So setting any fire on purpose doesn't

  • exactly sound like a good idea. But these people here pouring fire on the ground. They're

  • actually saving these forests from those devastating out of control fires we see on the news, because

  • over time we've learned that forest management isn't always about saving trees. Sometimes

  • it's about burning them. Indigenous communities studied the effects of natural periodic fires

  • and they've been practicing controlled fires for centuries. Before colonizers learnt from

  • these communities, forests were managed in ways that were ultimately harmful and made

  • the fire problem even worse. While many indigenous communities embraced fire as part of the forest.

  • US government took a different approach. After a massive fire, known as the Big burn of 1910

  • destroyed huge swaths of land in and around Northern Idaho. The US Forest Service launched

  • an aggressive fire suppression campaign. That campaign has lasted and persistent in many

  • forms over the decades and has basically removed natural fire from the landscape. And since

  • then, we've learned about the many benefits of natural fires and forests so this campaign

  • was straight up a huge problem. Before this whole fire is bad movement, fires were super common

  • and can be categorized in three ways: low, moderate and high severity. Most natural fire

  • was low and moderate, with occasional high severity fire that created gaps in forest which was actually

  • good. Fires created patchy forests with a diversity of conditions. We got open meadows and sections

  • with large fire resistant trees. Following that period with European settlements, there

  • was a large scale logging of the forest. So much of the old growth forest was cut down

  • in big swaths. For over 400 years though, loggers had chopped down thousands of acres of trees until

  • the 1970s when Forest Service lands were marked for preservation. What the Forest Service

  • inherited in many cases was very unhealthy forest full of lots of young trees, overcrowded,

  • very dense conditions. Those conditions have played themselves out and resulted in large

  • severity wildfires of the kind of witnessing in recent years. When you picture a healthy forest,

  • you might think of something that looks like this, a bunch of very similar looking trees

  • all bunched together, but this isn't quite right. Healthy trees need much more space

  • than this. Before the forest was cut down and then fire suppressed we typically had somewhere

  • between 30 and 50 very large trees per acre today and what we have is tree densities that

  • are more like 300, 500, and even 800 trees per acre. Amid so much competition the trees that

  • can't get the resources they need die and fall over turning into ground fuel. So today's forests have

  • way too much of this ground fuel. So when a fire sparks it can burn through more than three feet of fuel

  • on the forest floor, which can then quickly escalate into a high intensity fire and high

  • intensity fire ruins forests. The trees need a much longer time to go back and soil quality

  • is just wrecked. Huge fires this size are also dangerous for humans burning homes and

  • causing evacuations. They also produce disease causing smoke and contaminated water sources.

  • So we need not too much fire not too little fire but just the right amount. The Sierra Nevada

  • as a whole is a fire adapted forest. It needs good fire. But when we look back at

  • the scientific literature, reconstructing some of the deep history of these forests,

  • what we learned is that most of the fires were what were classified as low or moderate

  • severity wildfires. There was actually a very low percentage of wildfires that were in that

  • high severity class prior to the clear cutting and the fire suppression that we talked about.

  • The Big Burn of 1910 caused a campaign that literally extinguished all kinds of helpful

  • low intensity fires. But now experts are working to put those low intensity fires back into

  • the forest. Enter the Nature Conservancy, the US Forest Service, and their partners who

  • have been working to restore the natural state of these forests. through what's known as

  • prescribed burns or controlled fires. So we went to check out one of these prescribed fires

  • in the French Meadows area of the Sierra Nevada. The goal of the prescribed fire first and

  • foremost is to reintroduce beneficial fire to landscape and we want to simulate a low intensity fire.

  • To meet that objective, there's a prescription that is planned ahead of time that our firefighters and our

  • fuels officers have to meet. Literally a prescription to help the forest heal. Ideally all forests

  • that need it would get this treatment but in this case, the Forest Service chose the

  • Fresh Meadows area to protect the local reservoir and water source from a major fire. In addition

  • to choosing a good location, a lot goes into making sure that conditions are perfect to

  • burn off that ground fuel but not let the fire get out of control. One of the ways that

  • we can measure if we're in ideal conditions to initiate ignitions on a prescribed

  • fire is through the fuel moisture of the sticks out here in the forest, the fuel moisture, how

  • much actual water is in these, how easily they can snap and break. Let us know if they're

  • ready to burn to meet our objectives. You want there to be some moisture so the fire won't burn too

  • hot, but not so much that it doesn't spread at all. So the firefighters have to both start

  • the fire and keep it from spreading out of control. We always first try to use roads

  • or ridge lines or rocky outcroppings and if necessary, firefighters will prep an area

  • they'll actually build containment liners like the line behind me with removing all

  • the hazardous fuels all the burnable material to stop that progression of the fire. There

  • are all kinds of benefits to these prescribed fires burning off that excess ground fuel

  • protecting communities and water sources from high intensity fires and just upping the overall

  • forest health by restoring nutrients to the soil and bringing carbon from those excess

  • trees back into the soil. But not everyone is a fan of lighting fires intentionally especially

  • after all those fire. nearby communities also worry that these Burns will decrease air quality.

  • Smoke is an ever present part of prescribed fire planning in advance of doing a prescribed

  • fire. There are professionals to actually model the different environmental conditions

  • that will help lift the smoke up and disperse it out and away from populated areas. I will

  • say this in a large high intensity wildfire, the amount of smoke is magnitudes greater

  • than if we kind of nickel and dime our way through the smaller prescribed fire Each prescribed

  • fire has a measurable amount of smoke that is far less smoke input and carbon released into

  • the atmosphere than those high intensity fires. And again, more prescribed fire now equals

  • less high intensity wildfire later. One more time. More prescribed fire now equals fewer

  • high intensity fires later. In this world where the climate crisis is very much a reality.

  • We have more frequent and more devastating wildfires. Even though setting forest fires

  • might not be intuitive, prescribed burns have worked for millennia and are still one of

  • the best solutions for managing our forests well into the future. So this portion

  • of his watershed is now going to be more resilient to drought, disease, beetle infestation, and

  • what's important maybe it's gonna be more resilient to high intensity wildfire that's

  • the wildfires that we see in the news. My name is Niba of NotesByNiba and this has been

  • Seeker's Impact of Everything. Let us know if there's an episode topic you want us to

  • cover and we'll see you next time. Thanks for watching.

Adding fuel to a fire is usually not a good thing, especially when it comes to forest

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Save the Forests? Set Them On Fire

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    Summer posted on 2021/11/04
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