The West is burning, and Congress is responding with a lot of money.
The bipartisan infrastructure agreement passed by the Senate yesterday will spend billions of dollars on wildfire policies, most of which will be used to cut trees and plant new trees.
Some experts warn that this approach may backfire.
“As written, the infrastructure package is wrong on many levels. This is a climate change nightmare,” said Chad Hansen, a forest ecologist and co-founder of the John Muir Project.
The legislation has ignited a long-term debate about how fire should coexist with forests and humans.
Many state and federal officials blamed the recent wildfires on forests overloaded with dead vegetation. In the past decade, approximately 130 million trees have died in California alone. With the support of the wood industry, their solution is to remove the forest from the forest before it burns.
This principle guides the infrastructure package. It provided more than US$1.9 billion in funding to reduce fuel, of which at least US$1.2 billion was used to cut trees and clear vegetation.
It also created a new federal system to subsidize sawmills and other wood processing facilities, as well as $400 million in new financial assistance. “Proximity” to the sawmill will be a factor the agency considers when funding federal land restoration.
Critics say this logging is counterproductive to wildfire management. Timber companies make the most money by logging big trees, but those are the most fire-resistant. The act of felling trees leaves behind highly flammable abandoned vegetation. Logging equipment itself is a potential source of ignition and a notorious carrier of combustible invasive grass.
The final destination of some wood-the pellets used in the combustion of biomass generators-is It’s worse for the climate than coalCritics say this means that the policy may inadvertently exacerbate climate change, which in the first place will exacerbate wildfires. (The carbon sequestration value of other wood products depends on several factors. scientific debate.)
“If we increase deforestation, we will not be able to overcome the climate crisis. Doing so will only increase emissions, but will not curb fires,” Hansen said.
“We have seen this situation over and over again, these fires are quickly sweeping over these vast areas that they have already done. [tree] Thinning. [Authorities] Said they would do this to save the town. We have seen how this is resolved,” he added, referring to the town of Greenville, California that was destroyed in the Dixie fire last week.
Tim Ingalsbee, executive director of the Federation of Safety, Ethics and Ecological Firefighters, said that other parts of the infrastructure bill reflect the legacy of misguided wasteland firefighting strategies.
For example, it provides $500 million to create fuel interruptions, that is, land strips that are cleared of vegetation to control fires.
But it turns out that fuel interruption is ineffective in the wasteland, because embers can travel far in the wind, Inglesby said. He cited the Eagle Creek fire in Oregon in 2017, which crossed the Columbia River: “There is no better fuel break time than this.”
To make matters worse, a fuel interruption that is not properly maintained can cause the fire to spread faster.
California has reduced fuel interruptions by thousands of miles, many of which are in remote areas. But the company has little incentive to return to them, Ingalsbee said, because they have cut down the most valuable trees in the fire.
“It is precisely because of the lack of maintenance that each of these plans is doomed to fail,” he said.
But the fire interruption did provide real defense around the community, as well as prescribed burns.
“The real crisis is not burning trees on top of hills in wilderness areas. It is burning houses in the community,” Ingalsbee said.
Certain parts of the Infrastructure Act have indeed won widespread praise from the entire forestry and conservation community.
This includes $500 million allocated for community wildfire defense, which can fund projects that are most likely to protect homes and businesses. It includes another $500 million for prescribed burning, removing the most flammable vegetation, while preserving some of the ecological benefits of fires. It also funds more monitoring and research projects.
“We like this bill,” said Judd Daly, president and CEO of American Forest, one of the oldest conservation organizations in the United States.
Daly pointed to the potential of the legislation in planting trees. The Forest Service stated that its backlog of reforestation is more than 1 million acres and it is still increasing.
The bill will provide 200 million U.S. dollars for revegetation and hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars for mine reclamation, ecosystem restoration and other projects. It will also remove the spending ceiling on income streams that funded tree planting for decades.
Supporters of the bill say that forests need human help to quickly adapt to the 21st century climate. This means more planting and more cutting.
“The speed of change [in forests] It’s not linear,” Daly said. “We live in an era of explosive change, and if we don’t adapt to the speed of climate change and forest change, it will really be misled,” Daly said.
For example, he said, some forests can benefit from stronger tree species, replacing those that have become unsuitable for hotter, drier conditions. Proper forest management can facilitate this process.
“When we bring these forests to a place that is truly healthy and resilient in the future, they will in some places look completely different from what our eyes and our culture have become accustomed to,” he added. .
The infrastructure bill attempts to address the criticism of some environmentalists. It said that the funds for felling trees must be “used in an ecologically appropriate way, maximizing the preservation of large trees…to a certain extent, trees promote fire-resistant forest stands.”
But Jessica McCarty, a professor at the University of Miami who studies wildfires, said that to obtain fire recovery capabilities, it takes more than just keeping big trees. There is a risk of fire when operating logging machinery, and moving such equipment in the forest can leave a lasting disturbance.
“If you remove everything except the big tree, you may have disturbed and/or compacted the soil. So what will grow under the forest? It may be grass and weeds. Frankly speaking, in North America, this means invasion The probability of species is high,” she said.
McCarty added that it would be a good thing for federal agencies to shift their timber plans to sustainable climate adaptation practices. This will mean an end to clear and better incentives for more selective logging in natural areas.
“There is no place in the world where trees are not used,” she said. “I prefer trees to plastic.”
forward from Electronics News With permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2021. E&E News provides important news for energy and environmental professionals.