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Voice of San Diego's biweekly environmental news roundup (Mondays)
As California copes with major wildfire after major wildfire, several local environmentalists want to make sure the public doesn’t blame the wild for the fires.
The Escondido-based California Chaparral Institute is worried that chaparral – an ecosystem of shrubs – is getting a bad rap for being tied to big fires, like the Tubbs Fire, one of the recent Wine Country fires.
In a pointed blog post, the institute’s director, Richard Halsey, says people need to spend less time blaming burning bushes and more time blaming themselves. In particular, the institute is pushing back against the idea that fire agencies should go around removing chaparral in order to reduce fire risk in the backcountry. The institute says it doesn’t make sense to tear up an ecosystem when the ecosystem isn’t the major problem – the people moving into it are.
“The reason the Tubbs Fire was so destructive was not because of some kind of Frankenstein wildland created by firefighters, or climate change, or the failure ‘to cut down some trees and remove the underbrush,’” Halsey said, quoting a media report blaming uncontrolled brush for the fire. “The Tubbs Fire was so destructive because land planners have failed us, with firefighters left holding the bag.”
The risk of wildfires comes up a lot in San Diego’s backcountry, where several major housing developments have sought to build in fire-prone areas. Sure, over a third of the county is covered in chaparral, but the shrubs have always been there, the people and houses have not.
As KQED reported this week, even official maps that purport to show the high-risk fire zones in the state have shortcomings. Namely, neighborhoods that burned to the ground during the Wine Country fires were outside of the hazard zones drawn on those fire-risk maps.
Several friends in the Pacific Northwest were posting photos of a rare snow in Seattle last week. So, being from the East Coast, I started reminiscing about snow, which is one of my favorite things on earth.
In California, I get to see it often enough during trips up to the Eastern Sierra, or even occasionally closer to home, in small patches up near Laguna Mountain or Julian. But, since I’m not traveling all the time, I keep pretty close tabs on the Mammoth Times, a paper that says it’s been “covering the High Sierra since John Muir left.” Heading into the weekend, it told its readers to get ready for a snowstorm. It said, bluntly, “In other words, traveling is going to be … interesting.”
I also get updates from the Mono Lake Committee, which monitors and fights for the health of Mono Lake, which is affected by how much water the city of Los Angeles diverts from the watershed. Geoffrey McQuilkin, its executive director, took a look back on last year and the immense snows that fell across the Sierra.
“It is hard to fathom the scale of what happened,” he wrote. “In three weeks in January, scientists note, more than the equivalent of the entire average annual flow of the Colorado River fell as snow onto the Sierra Nevada.”
There was so much snow, some of it was still in the Sierra in July near Mount Whitney – and that’s just what you can see from the road. It’s hard to fathom, but it’s easy to look at.