Why Low-Landers Should Care about Prescribed Burns in Local Mountains

Why Low-Landers Should Care about Prescribed Burns in Local Mountains


A 2016 report by property analysts Corelogic examined the number of homes in western states at extreme risk for wildfire damage. Among the communities examined across 13 states, the report identified the inland region as having the most homes at risk. 

For this reason, when the Forest Service announced plans for controlled burns in the local mountains a little more than a week ago, it was cause for “low-landers” in the inland area to pay attention. 

Residents know from experience how quickly wildfires can spread from the mountain region to low-lying communities, so local residents have a vested interest in ensuring local forests are appropriately maintained and fire risks are minimized to the extent possible. 

Recent storms brought considerable moisture to the region certain to result in an abundance of new growth. In the wake of those storms, the U.S. Forest Service announced ecological restoration efforts that will include prescribed burns throughout local forests this winter. 

Forest fire management officer Jaime Gamboa said, “In order to safely defend structures and put firefighters between homes and a wildfire, we need to create defensible space. Just like homeowners clearing brush around their homes, we want to clear heavy fuels around communities.” 

According to Gamboa, the timing of the prescribed burns is certain to depend on several factors, including air quality, winds, and moisture levels. He further explained that such burning projects require years of advance planning. When planning and preparations are completed, firefighters must then wait for a window of time when environmental conditions are safe enough to begin the prescribed burns. 

The Forest Service noted that prescribed burns help restore ecological function to the forest. “Fire has a natural role in coniferous regions of the San Bernardino National Forest,” the agency noted. “Caused naturally by lightning, fire has long maintained the health of forests, clearing brush on the forest floor and releasing seeds from pine cones, among other natural processes.” 

The agency further noted that development within the forest over the past century has allowed fuels to unnaturally build up—an overabundance of flammable brush, which help fuel wildfires, is quickly spreading into the canopy and toward communities and infrastructure. Thinning forested areas can help protect communities and infrastructure from wildfires. 

In addition, ecologists and forest service experts have long agreed that overgrown forests decrease the amount of water sent downstream into cities. The San Bernardino National Forest serves a number of watersheds, including the Santa Ana River Watershed. Many California residents are unaware that national forests provide 50 percent of the state’s water.

As noted by San Bernardino National Forest Supervisor Jody Noiron, “When you go through your morning routine—brushing your teeth, taking a shower, making coffee—national forests help make that happen.” She added, “It’s a forest to faucet story and we need healthy forests to keep it that way.” 

This is a key reason Nestle Waters’ purported theft of water from the San Bernardino National Forest to produce Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water, even as the state was in the midst of an historic drought that resulted in a statewide water crisis, was viewed as so egregious. 

Last week, the State Water Resources Control Board extended the deadline for comments on Nestle’s controversial removal of water from the San Bernardino Mountains to February 9. View the investigation at www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/enforcement/complaints/nestle.html

In the meantime, the public will be notified as burn dates are set for the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains. Information will also be posted on line at https://www.fs.usda.gov/sbnf.

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