Burned again

  Decades of fire suppression had nothing to do with Southern California's wildland fires this past October. I am extremely disappointed that you would ignore the past 20 years of scientific research and instead repeat the same old tired assumptions about wildfires "in general" as being driven by "unnatural" fuel loads and apply them to California (HCN, 11/12/07). While fire has definitely been excluded in some Western forested systems due to fire suppression, this is not the case in Southern California's shrubland ecosystems, especially chaparral.

The fact of the matter is there is too much fire on Southern California landscapes. Fire frequency has been increasing dramatically over the past century, leading to the elimination of chaparral and coastal sage scrub communities over vast areas. In their place, depressing tracts of non-native, weedy grasslands have filled the void.

It is nearly impossible to find a patch of land in San Diego County, the site of the most destructive infernos in October, which has not burned over the past 40 years. Very few beautiful, old-growth stands of chaparral exist anymore due to excessive fires. The remarkable elfin forests with 20-foot-tall manzanita shrub-trees are no more. If fire suppression was responsible for the region's 2007 wildfires, why did huge portions of these fires re-burn areas that had been consumed in the 2003 fires? In Southern California, chaparral wildland fires are about dry Santa Ana winds, not misapplied assumptions from ponderosa pine forests in Arizona.

I implore you to please not accept standard explanations about why and where wildland fires occur, and instead do the required research to get the story straight. Anything less only perpetuates mythology that can lead to highly destructive land use policies. We have lost enough chaparral in Southern California due to excessive fire. We can't afford to lose any more due to misguided land management.

Richard W. Halsey, Director,
California Chaparral Institute
Escondido, California
High Country News Classifieds