Trees more numerous, less healthy after decades of fire suppression

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FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE) — Numerous dead and dying trees make the Creek Fire particularly ferocious.

In Central California, we’ve watched the face of our forests change dramatically in recent years.

But some of the biggest changes were already taking place long before.

Panoramic photographs from US Forest Service fire lookouts provide a detailed record of what our forests looked like nearly 100 years ago — before decades of extensive wildfire suppression.

Reedley College Wildland Fire Technology instructor Adam Hernandez spent 17 working at the US Forest Service.  He says that a century ago the Sierra National Forest had “open landscapes dominated by big healthy trees well spaced apart” and that “The landscape was adapted to fire and fire would move through the landscapes on a regular basis and it was low intensity and it was part of the ecosystem and that’s how this ecosystem thrives in the Central Sierra Nevada.”

Hernandez says more trees per acre means each gets less water, higher rates of disease, and burn in hotter more intense fires.

“Logging has kind of taken a hit. That’s something that hasn’t allowed us to modify forest vegetation and try and get it back to the way that it used to be. 

Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig wants more robust forest management.

Videos and statements posted on his facebook page say, “there are just way too many trees per acre.”

Supervisor Magsig is sharing updates from the Creek Fire on Facebook.

Forest Management can include logging to clearing brush to prescribed burns.

Hernandez says, “We’ve been practicing prescribed fire since the sixties.  And that’s been something on our radar a long time. However once you start having this urban sprawl in the forest it limits your ability to implement prescribed fire because then you have to contend with the values that are at risk out there.”

Although there are many factors involved, Hernandez says everyone’s goals are the same, “Work together because we are in this together.”

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