On Sunday, May 22nd, Carl Skinner, a very knowledgeable Fire Research Geographer, gave a slide presentation on the history of fires for the Shingletown Historical Society and guests. The fire problems preventable in California today are the result of our lovely Mediterranean climate of cool, wet winters and long, hot summers that have always promoted and supported fires. The extremely dense vegetation now covering the hillsides is due to years of ignoring the under-growth. Decades-old photographs of open forest sites were compared to today’s dense forests. This change in density of forests has led to the change from mostly low-severity fires to much more destructive fires of higher severity.
We know that the indigenous peoples cleared the underbrush centuries ago, thus limiting the negative effects of a wild fire and providing for food and fiber resources. In the 1930s, the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp), in addition to other work, became firefighters, with work centers placed in many locations in the forest. After WWII, firefighting equipment became available. Yet, in the latter part of the 20th Century and early 21st Century, more large severe fires occurred as vegetation accumulated, our earth warmed, populations increased, and a mindset took over valuing the “beauty” of densely forested areas. There was even a California law stating the necessity of putting out fires, CA4 (5-12). And so the green walls got thicker, trails were cut through the wilderness for hikers and riders and, of course, the danger of more fires increased.
Mr Skinner presented various charts and graphs displaying historical and present-day fire activity, and the discrepancies between the years. Photos of tree rings showing fire-scars in the trees' midlife were of particular interest, proving that a forest can be resilient and withstand or recover from a fire.
Carl told us that native plants regenerate, and even replenish, the soil, and forest creatures eventually return. After the Hertz Fire of 2018, it was noted that the habitat of the bald eagle was actually improved by less understory vegetation. The fire re-opened the canopies, allowing the birds easier access to nesting places.
Take a look around. Can you see through the forest?
Wanted: People with a lively curiosity & an interest in local history. No experience necessary. Training provided. Call Beverly 1-530-474-5110