Climate Change is Drying California's Landscapes = More Fires. It's not about past fire suppression impacts
The 2016 Abatzoglou and Williams paper is an especially good one to read. Unfortunately, their predictions were conservative. Things have become much worse. Here's an excellent article that explains VPD in The Atlantic magazine.
The graphs below provide the stark relationship between climate change via VPD and fire activity in forested ecosystems. VPD is a much better measurement of climate impacts on fire activity than others, like the Palmer Drought Index, because it reveals a variable that directly influences the environment's flammability, rather past drought conditions which can have various impacts.
As we have learned in southern California, the amount of vegetation, past fire suppression impacts, the number of “fuel” treatments, etc., are generally irrelevant in controlling fire spread under extreme fire conditions. It’s high VPD levels, low humidity, dry vegetation, high temps, strong winds and/or the associated ember-cast from fires that determine large wildfire activity. Recent wildfires in northern California are reflecting this.
For example, during the 2021 Dixie Fire in northern California, there was a ember-generated spot fire that ignited about 7-8 miles ahead of the main fire front on the fire’s eastern front (on approximately August 16/17). The embers flew over huge “fuel” treatment projects. After igniting, the spot fire even burned back through the "fuel" reduction area that it had originally jumped. An additional 30,000 acres were burned. This didn’t occur because some magical “fuel accumulation” threshold was suddenly crossed or because of a lack of fire history in the area. It was directly related to a drying landscape and other conditions created by human-caused climate change.
Therefore, the traditional view that large forest fires are normally “fuel” driven, while large chaparral fires are mostly weather driven, no longer accurately describes California’s fire environment. Nearly all large fires now appear to be more about climate change than anything else.
Of course, “fuels” and past fire history are relevant issues in the Dixie and other fires, but such variables do not come close to revealing the full story.
As can be seen in the map below, nearly all of the areas within the Dixie Fire without a fire history had been drastically altered by logging/thinning/habitat clearance projects. The full story is about how the natural landscape has been compromised and damaged by extraction industries (i.e. logging), and how the “fuel” characteristics have been altered by such actions.
Contributing to Climate Change Under the Guise of Fire Protection
The Impact of Climate Change on
Mediterranean-type climate ecosystems
The destruction of habitat is exactly the approach California Governor Newsom has endorsed and Cal Fire is trying to implement.
Please see "A Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment of California's Terrestrial Vegetation" (Thorne et al. 2016) for further details.
2. Native habitats at risk. "At current rates of emissions, about 45-56 percent of all the natural vegetation in the state is at risk, or from 61,190 to 75,866 square miles," said lead author James Thorne, a research scientist with the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at UC Davis. "If we reduce the rate to Paris accord targets, those numbers are lowered to between 21 and 28 percent of the lands at climatic risk."To read more, please see the 2018 research summary here.You can also download the full paper.
3. Southern California is moving north. "One consequence of climate disturbance in California will be a shift of biodiversity to the north (Loarie et al. 2008). Scientists from the US Geological Survey developed the Coastal Vulnerability Index (CVI) to assess the physical vulnerability of the California coast. They found that from San Luis Obispo to the Mexico border, communities along this coastline have “high” or “very high” vulnerability to climate change (McGinnis et al. 2009; National Park Service 2004; Stein et al. 2000)." - Dr. Michael McGinnis: Read More.
Take personal action to help reverse this civilization killing behavior
2. Join/Help organizations that are helping to mobilize the world for change such as:
Earth Guardians Scientists Warning
Extinction Rebellion 3. Make personal changes to reduce the amount of carbon you add to the atmosphere. For example:
- Reduce or eliminate beef from your diet.- Alter your transportation habits to reduce consumption of fossil fuels.- Help others understand the impact of the Climate Crisis (connect emotionally).- Vote for leaders who acknowledge the Climate Crisis and support change.- Support companies who are reducing their carbon emissions (vote with your wallet).- Replace screen time with socializing, creating, learning, art, hiking, gardening, loving.- Install solar panels if you own a home and can afford it.
Dr Bendell's most widely read paper can be found here:Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating ClimateTragedy, IFLAS Occasional Paper 2, July 27th 2018, Jem Bendell BA (Hons) PhD
Selected Papers on Climate Change
Luo, H. 2007. Mature semiarid chaparral ecosystems can be a significant sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide. Global Change Biology 13: 386-396.
Westerling, A.L. H.G. Hidalgo, D.R. Cayan, T.W. Swetnam. 2006. Warming and earlier spring increase Western U.S. forest wildfire activity. Science. 313: 940–943.
Lenihan, J.M., R. Drapek, D. Bachelet, R.P. Neilson. 2003. Climate change effects on vegetation distribution, carbon, and fire in California. Ecological Applications 13: 1667-1681.
Davis, F.W. and J. Michaelsen. 1995. Sensitivity of fire regime in chaparral ecosystems to climate change. In Moreno, J. and W.C. Oechel (eds) Global Change and Mediterranean-Type Ecosystems.
Gonzalez, P., G.P. Asner, J.J. Battles, M.A. Lefsky, K.M. Waring, and M. Palace. 2010. Forest carbon densities and uncertainties from Lidar, QuickBird, and field measurements in California. Remote Sensing of Environment 114: 1561-1575.* *The climate change data for this paper comes from a report by Battles, et. al 2014. It has some calculations on the chaparral's level of carbon sequestration, namely chaparral in southern California 1-3 meters tall sequesters about 50 +/- 8 metric tonnes per hectare (2.5 acres).