So far this 2020, over 4 million acres of land have burned down in California. That area is a record-breaking amount, and around the size of Connecticut. This happens because climate change makes the state drier and hotter. With many years of fire suppression, megafires are becoming more and more common.
The Camp Fire burned through Paradise back in 2018 and killed 85 people. It was just one of a series of fires in that area. This 2020, as fires raged in nearby places, families and individuals living there were once again forced to evacuate.
As wildfires get bigger and bigger, they destroy every little in their path. This makes it more difficult for trees and forests to grow back. Without human intervention, some burned areas can turn into grasslands.
This is a huge problem for our ecosystem and climate goals. Trees are excellent and effective at sucking up CO2 (carbon dioxide) and storing it as they mature. In the state of California, preserving forests is a big part of the cap-and-trade system. On a global scale, forests are important to achieve net-zero emissions. However, replanting right after a fire is not as obvious a benefit if the trees just risk getting burned. A unique approach to planting, though, can lessen that risk.
One strategy was something that can be compared to social distancing – planting trees in little clumps that are spaced irregularly. Since the trees are so far apart, a wildfire can’t jump in between clumps. This technique isn’t completely proven yet, but it’s becoming more common. As per anecdotal evidence, it helps more trees survive, in case a fire burns the area.
Moreover, it helps replant trees that have the best survival chances. Sugar pines, for instance, have been hit by diseases. However, it’s possible to inspect an area where trees have been killed, and then find one that managed to survive since it has the best genetic resistance. Then, seeds can be collected, seedlings can be raised and planted in a space that has burned. Experts can speed up the natural selection process by planting.
The kinds of trees in one area should also be changed.
About 30% of the forests that burned down in Oregon and California this year were so heavily damaged that they’ll need replanting. These trees can’t regenerate all by themselves. That means covering over 1.5 million acres of land.
There are several obstacles, though. Experts only have a two-year window to work on things, before shrubs and grass take over. Furthermore, there’s a shortage of seedlings at many nurseries. Also, the permitting process to plant on federal lands is so slow.
Different organizations working on the wildfire problem will have to be patient. They also need to get creative. What about using drones to plant more trees?