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EDITORIAL: Time for Nevada, California to fight fire with fire

Eastern states have more forestland than Western states. You just wouldn’t know it based on where large wildfires most frequently occur.

The Caldor Fire continues to burn near Lake Tahoe. It has already burned more than 600 homes and 210,000 acres. As of this writing, it is only 25 percent contained.

Unfortunately, this isn’t even close to the biggest fire California has experienced — this summer. The Dixie Fire, which started on July 13 and is still burning, has consumed over 850,000 acres. For perspective, the City of Las Vegas proper contains around 90,000 square acres.

Nor is this the first summer that fires have ravaged the West Coast. Last year’s August Complex fire burned over 1 million acres. In 2018, the Camp Fire roared through the town of Paradise, destroying 11,000 homes. It also killed over 80 people. In December 2017, multiple blazes threatened Southern California.

It may be politically expedient to blame drought and power line problems. Undoubtedly, those have contributed to the destruction. But government officials are supposed to adapt to how thigns are — not daydream about how they’d like things to be. Bottom line: California’s forest management isn’t working.

That’s where Florida comes in. Proportionately, Florida has more forestland than California according to the U.S. Forest Service. Most people may not realize it, but the South has almost three times as much forestland as the Pacific states, excluding Alaska.

To manage its forests, Florida uses controlled burns more than any state in the country, according to NPR. Controlled burns remove the undergrowth and dead leaves that can lead to out-of-control blazes.

That used to be standard practice, dating back to Native Americans. But over 100 years ago, government decided that it knew better and focused on fire suppression. Under the guidance of the Forest Service, fire crews aggressively put out fires on government-owned forests.

But over 80 percent of forestland in the Eastern U. S. is privately owned. In the Southeast, some forest managers continued to use fire as a tool to help maintain healthy forests. Florida and 10 other Southern states even have programs to help people become burn managers. With that certification, Florida “burn bosses” can receive approval for a burn in as little as 15 minutes. In California, it can take months.

The results speak for themselves. Just in 2021, Florida has completed controlled burns on over 1.5 million acres. In California, that number is around 35,000 acres.

To prevent big fires, forest managers in the West need to use more small fires.

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