Since this is an international forum I had a question about the Australia fires that I thought someone might have an answer for.
The California fires we have been having are often ‘blamed’ on climate change, but there are a lot of other factors also. This is not to say that climate change isn’t a huge deal and a big problem, but more to say climate change is part of a broader pattern of how we interact with our planet:
-Thousands of years of indigenous fire management was stopped
-Heavy, uncontrolled cattle grazing from early colonial days spread invasive grasses widely and caused watershed degradation, lowering water tables and drying up springs and streams
-Hydraulic mining associated with the gold rush caused more mass erosion, gullying up streams, filling in wetlands, and generally drying out the landscape more
-Beavers were trapped out, which also reduced the amount of water in the landscape dramatically. In most of California they are still gone.
-Clear cutting of most of California’s forests resulted in more of the same.
-When the trees tried to grow back, fire suppression started, causing them to grow back extremely dense, requiring more water use, despite the above.
-Water projects and development destroyed 95% (!) of California’s wetlands and dried up a large number of the rivers further. These wetlands and floodplain forests were natural firebreaks that worked much better than cleared land - oaks and willows and cottonwoods and such catch flying sparks but when well watered, will not ignite.
-Deep groundwater withdrawals removed a source of water to the deep-taprooted plants. These plants actually can lift up water from deep groundwater and ‘share’ it with other plants. But not if there is no water.
-Ironically, highly flammable eucalyptus trees from Australia were planted, making matters worse.
-Sprawling development spread the very flammable invasive species even further. The invasive grasses and mustards can burn every 1-2 years instead of 30-100 with chaparral, and burn much more intensely than a pine forest understory. Also the development dramatically introduces ignition sources and puts lives at risks.
-As if that all was not enough, climate change has led to more extreme weather including heat waves and drought years, setting off the inevitable and making it worse.
Climate change is a super important and dire issue, but talking about the California fires as if they are only an issue due to a global problem and not also local and regional management is problematic. Note that there are also many who claim that the fires are because the forests weren’t logged enough which considering the above doesn’t actually make sense. And, we need to understand the problem to fix it!
So, apologies for all this text, but my question here is… does anyone know if the Australia fires are a similar situation, or are more cleanly linked to just climate change?