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Fitting the solutions to the problems in managing extreme wildfire in california

Abstract

Agencies are busy within California developing prioritization strategies to increase the pace and scale of forest treatment in an effort to reduce damage to ecosystems and people by large severe wildfire. A tacit assumption of this effort is that building forest resilience to wildfire will resolve California’s extreme wildfire challenge. Specifically, the management focus is on coniferous forests where there is abundant evidence of increased tree density and a history of timber production. However, much of the state is covered by non-forested ecosystems, which is also where a lot of structure loss has occurred. We use more than twenty years of wildfire data in California to identify the relative proportion of wildfire area, ignitions and the number of structures destroyed by wildfire categorized by vegetation type. Using five general categories of vegetation (annual dominated, shrubland, woodland, mixed hardwood forest and coniferous forest) we show that a majority of area burned, ignitions and the vast majority of structures damaged by wildfire occur in vegetation types other than coniferous forests. Comprising 19% of the vegetation of California, coniferous forests garner the lion’s share of interest in management strategies to reduce the adverse impacts of wildfire. Simply summary statistics clearly show, however, that most of the damage from fire is in systems where forest management is not likely to result in increased wildfire resilience.

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