Close to Home: A stark reminder of the importance of controlled burning

My wife and I live on a beautiful LandPaths property on St. Helena Road in northeast Sonoma County. For more than 50 years, we have managed the property for timber production of about 50 percent Douglas firs and 50 percent redwoods and includes many native heritage specimens of hardwood trees. We have managed this forest to be as fire resistant as possible by pruning lower branches, thinning the trees, and burning brush piles.

One very important issue that seems to have been overlooked is the part played by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. This is the agency that notifies the public when it is a “spare the air day.” The rules and regulations are daunting and virtually impossible to adhere to, especially in forest management.

This is an excerpt from an e-mail I sent to the air quality district in June 2016 in which we expressed our concern that air quality district standards were having an adverse effect on forestry cleanup “and will probably result in a mass uncontrollable fire” in Sonoma County.

“Not enough is being done about cleaning up all the brush and dying and fallen trees. To make matters worse, we have had a huge outbreak of bark beetle and sudden oak death. To add insult to injury, PG&E, in its great wisdom, has cut thousands of trees under the transmission lines and has left them to decay or burn.”

The analysis post-fire from CalFire agrees with our opinion as being correct. The fires have done a thorough job of cleaning up the forest floor, but frequent fires are necessary to prevent build-up of tree debris, weeds and brush.

Native Americans burned the forest and meadows every few years for beneficial purposes to provide food. Fire suppression by white man has been the practice for too long, and we are paying for it. Something must change.

Do we need controlled burns? Yes. Do we need better forest and landscape management? Yes.

Then on Nov. 23, the San Francisco Chronicle published a story that read, “Disaster emissions exceed progress from state’s cuts.”

We don’t as yet know the results of this year, but in 2015, California reduced emissions equal to 1.49 million metric tons of CO2 but California wildfires produced 22.8 million metric tons. I am sure, especially now due to the raging fires in Southern California, this year will far exceed that number.

Even though we have this huge deficit in emissions, the California Air Resources Board’s solution appears to be to simply ignore this massive deficit in the numbers.

The California Air Resources Board website states that “California has made significant progress to reduce our exposure to harmful air pollutants.”

The recent Northern California fires resulted in 44 deaths (and counting), emergency rooms and medical facilities seeing many people suffering from smoke inhalation and prolonged respiratory problems, and the list goes on. I have three friends who developed asthma as a result of the fires.

This is not to mention thousands of homes, business and structures being destroyed.

What liability does the Air Board have in all this destruction and health issues? I think a lot. It is again one of those cases of “unintended consequences.”

Jim Doerksen is a retired city engineer, public works director, real estate agent and hydrologist. The Doerksens’ timber ranch, called Rancho Mark West, is a “life estate” with LandPaths.

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