Dr. Paul Hessburg, an expert research landscape ecologist will be in town to present a multi-media presentation called Era of Megafires. Hessburg has been traveling with the presentation to spread awareness. “The current megafire issue is a social problem with an ecological explanation. Era of Megafires addresses how we got here, what’s at stake, and what each of us can do.”
While the narrative of his presentation draws from Hessburg’s research, Era of Megafires also draws from personal stories to create an emotional gravity connecting viewers to the stakes involved. Some of the ideas presented challenge popular beliefs. For example, a common notion holds that healthy forests support a lush carpet of trees, but Dr. Hessburg says about 11 to 12 million acres in Washington and Oregon alone suffer from an epidemic of too many trees.
Since 1985, the American West has seen a sharp rise in area burned. Since 2000, megafires have torched most of the 100 million acres of forest and rangeland burned. Hessburg says, “Modeling indicates we can expect a doubling or tripling of annual area burned by mid-century. Many of our magical places are primed and ready to go.” In the worst years, fire seasons last 4 to 8 weeks longer than just 50 years ago.
“We have tools that can reverse the trend,” says Hessburg. When applied in the right places, managed wildfire, prescribed, and mechanical thinning can all be used in combination to effectively thin the forest and reduce fuels. Unfortunately social and political pressures curtail how successfully Western communities defuse their wildfire threat. Smoke is the major and most misunderstood deterrent impairing the reduction of forest fuels. Prescribed burning is greatly curtailed because the resulting smoke is regulated. Hessburg says the trade-off between wildfire and prescribed fire smoke is enormous and that smoke-management and air-quality regulations must put wild and prescribed fires on the same balance sheet.
The presentation also discusses ways our communities can prepare to deal with and minimize the urban impact of fires. As long as we ignore our unhealthy forests, we will have to accept the destruction associated with megafires.
Ultimately Hessburg’s message and the bottom line of Era of Megafires is that fire and smoke are inevitable on the Western landscape, so we need better ways to live with fire. “The good news,” says Hessburg, “is that we have tools that give us choices about how we co-exist better with fire and smoke. Do we want fire in frequent, small doses that benefit the forest and reduce risks to communities; or in large, indiscriminate doses?”
Dr. Paul Hessburg will present Era of Megafires at the OK Theatre on Thursday, May 25 at 6:00 pm. The presentation is free.