Hexbyte Glen Cove California fights fire with fire to protect giant sequoias thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove California fights fire with fire to protect giant sequoias

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Flames got close to the General Sherman, the world’s biggest tree, but were pushed back thanks to years of controlled burns that starved the fire of fuel.

The so-far successful battle this month in California to save the world’s biggest trees from ever-worsening forest blazes seems to offer an important lesson: You can fight fire with fire.

Human-caused climate change has made the western United States hotter, drier and more vulnerable to increasingly destructive wildfires, which have this year taken a horrific toll on the region’s forests.

That has included threatening huge sequoias like the General Sherman, which looms 275 feet (83 meters) above the .

Firefighters were able to beat back the flames as they ate into California’s Giant Forest, thanks to decades of prescribed burns that starved the blaze of fuel.

“It sounds a little strange to say this, but there actually has not been enough fire in California for about a century,” said Rebecca Miller, a researcher at the University of Southern California.

“There were policies in place at the federal and the state level throughout much of the 20th century to prevent fire, because there was an incorrect belief that fire was bad for the environment.”

Fires are part of the natural cycle of life, clearing away excess vegetation, purging pests, and making space for new growth.

In the wilderness, these fires eventually burn themselves out.

But as has encroached further into formerly wild spaces, tolerance for these fires has diminished and firefighters are under instructions to put out all blazes as soon as possible.

Parts of the Sequoia National Forest have burned in the most recent blazes.

Now there is a growing realization that this policy is actually contributing to the worsening of forest fires—giving them so much more fuel and making them hotter, faster and more destructive.

Instead, the thinking goes, we should actually be helping smaller fires to burn.

The practice was key to protecting Giant Forest, home to the General Sherman, says Mark Garrett, a spokesman for the force trying to tame the still-active KNP Complex fire.

‘Best tool we have’

The sequoias of Giant Forest, some of which are up to 3,000 years old, have survived countless previous fires.

Their thick bark protects them from flames, and their cones actually need the heat of smaller fires to open up and spread their seeds.

But even these imposing giants cannot cope with the mega blazes tearing through California’s parched landscape.

Around 10,000 of them—up to 14 percent of the world’s total—perished in a huge fire last year.

So there was considerable nervousness when flames from the KNP Complex started eating into the Sequoia National Forest.

Sequoias can survive – and even thrive – in low-level fires, using the heat to open their cones and spread their seeds, but can be killed in the hotter, faster fires that are gripping California.

Garrett says it was the first time an uncontrolled fire had come so close to the General Sherman, which was wrapped in a protective foil.

But thanks to years of controlled burns, the fire couldn’t get much of a purchase, said Garrett.

“We’re seeing things we haven’t seen before, like near 300-foot trees being killed because of the smaller trees in between them that are carrying that fire,” he told AFP.

Controlled burns are “the best tool we have right now.”

The next General Sherman

But not everyone agrees.

“It is not an effective strategy and it’s been very much overblown,” says ecologist George Wuerthner.

Controlled burning has to be so widespread and so regular that it’s prohibitive.

“We just can’t be doing the whole landscape at that kind of frequency. It’s misleading to suggest that that’s a panacea for preventing large fires.”

California redwood trees grow taller – over 100 metres – but sequoias are the largest trees by volume in the world.

Former forest service official Andy Stahl says worthwhile controlled burns would cost billions of dollars.

“You can’t just burn it, walk away from it and say, ‘Well I don’t have to do that again for another 100 years.”

“No, you have to go back there in another five or 10 years and do it again,” said Stahl, who is executive director of FSEEE, an organization focused on ethical forest management.

Which explains why there are very few areas in the western United States where the practice is common—apart from around Giant Forest.

“It’s a very, very small footprint in a small National Park.”

For Garrett, there is simply no choice: “We need more money. We need more people. This needs to be done, all over the mountains and the federal lands.

“We don’t have a lot of brand new sequoia trees in the Giant Forest because it hasn’t seen in so long.

“We need that new generation to replace the General Sherman 2,000 years from now.”



© 2021 AFP

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California fights fire with fire to protect giant sequoias (2021, September 26)
retrieved 27 September 2021
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Australia fights UN downgrade of Great Barrier Reef health

Hexbyte Glen Cove

This aerial photos shows the Great Barrier Reef in Australia on Dec. 2, 2017. Australia said Tuesday, June 22, 2021, it will fight a recommendation for the Great Barrier Reef to be listed as in danger of losing its World Heritage values due to climate change, while environmentalists have applauded the U.N. World Heritage Committee’s proposal.Credit: Kyodo News via AP

Australia said Tuesday it will fight against plans to downgrade the Great Barrier Reef’s World Heritage status due to climate change, while environmentalists have applauded the U.N. World Heritage Committee’s proposal.

The committee said in a draft report on Monday that “there is no possible doubt” that the network of colorful corals off Australia’s northeast coast was “facing ascertained danger.”

The report recommends that the world’s most extensive coral reef ecosystem be added to UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger, which includes 53 sites, when the World Heritage Committee considers the question in China in July.

The listing could shake Australians’ confidence in their government’s ability to care for the natural wonder and create a role for UNESCO headquarters in devising so-called “corrective measures,” which would likely include tougher action to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Any downgrade of the reef’s World Heritage status could reduce tourism revenue that the natural wonder generates for Australia because fewer tourists would be attracted to a degraded environment and dead coral.

Reef cruise operators said the report was wrong and that tourists continued to be awed by dazzling coral and multicolored fish. But some tourists said the reef had seemed more colorful during visits decades ago.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley said she and Foreign Minister Marise Payne had called UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay to express the government’s “strong disappointment” and “bewilderment” at the proposal.

Australia, which is one of 21 countries on the committee, will oppose the listing, Ley said.

“This decision was flawed. Clearly there were politics behind it,” Ley told reporters. “Clearly those politics have subverted a proper process and for the World Heritage Committee to not even foreshadow this listing is, I think, appalling.”

The network of 2,500 reefs covering 348,000 square kilometers (134,000 square miles) has been World Heritage-listed since 1981.

But its health is under increasing threat from and rising ocean temperatures.

The report found the site had suffered significantly from coral bleaching events caused by unusually warm ocean temperatures in 2016, 2017 and last year.

Australian Environment Minister Sussan Ley, left, speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, June 22, 2021. Australia said on Tuesday it will fight a draft recommendation to list the Great Barrier Reef as a World Heritage site in danger after a United Nations body called for more government action on climate change. Credit: Lukas Coch/AAP via AP

Australian Marine Conservation Society environmental consultant Imogen Zethoven welcomed the committee’s recognition that “Australia hasn’t done enough on climate change to protect the future of the reef.”

The reef would become the first site to be added to the List of World Heritage in Danger primarily for climate change reasons, Zethoven said.

“It would be a very significant step for the World Heritage Committee to make this decision and one that we really hope that it does make because it will open up a lot of potential change,” she said.

Richard Leck, a spokesman for the environmental group WWF, said listing the reef as in-danger would be “a real shock” to many Australians.

In 2014, Australia was warned that an “in danger” listing was being considered rather than being proposed for immediate action.

Australia had time to respond by developing a long-term plan to improve the reef’s health called the Reef 2050 Plan.

The committee said this week that plan “requires stronger and clearer commitments, in particular towards urgently countering the effects of climate change.”

Ley said climate change policy debate should be restricted to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“I know … that climate change is the biggest threat to the and in no way am I stepping away from that recognition and countries including European countries have got strong views about what policies different countries should have on climate change and I understand that as well, but this is not the convention in which to have those conversations,” Ley said, referring to the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.

Observers say the swearing in on Tuesday of new Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who opposes action on climate change that increases prices, signals Australia is likely to set less ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Terry Hughes, director of the Australian Research Council’s Center for Excellence in Coral Reef Studies, said Australia’s refusal to commit to a net zero carbon emissions target by 2050 made the country a “complete outlier.”

“This draft decision from UNESCO is pointing the finger at Australia and saying: ‘If you’re serious about saving the Great Barrier Reef, you need to do something about your policies,'” Hughes told Australian Broadcasting Corp.



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Citation:
Australia fights UN downgrade of Great Barrier Reef health (2021, June 22)
retrieved 22 June 2021
from https://phys.org/news/2021-06-australia-downgrade-great-barrier-reef.html

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part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

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