The Eastside is a tinder box.
A big fire is coming to the Eastside, it’s inevitable. But we get to choose what kind of fire it’s going to be; a cleansing burn that keeps the forest healthy or one that will destroy homes and property or maybe a whole community.
Fires aren’t popular but a necessity in the forest, says Deb Schweizer, Public Information Officer for the Inyo National Forest. In case you haven’t noticed the trees turning brown or falling on your condo, the INF is not doing well. Decades of fire suppression has overstocked the forest. There are now more than 200 trees per acre.
Behind Sierra Street is a hill that is packed with small trees and three huge stumps. The stumps are three-, to four-feet around, remnants of an old growth forest. Schweizer explained those massive trees would have covered that hill in John Muir’s day. Now with fire suppression, plants are fighting for sunlight, nutrients and water. The trees get stressed out trying to grow but never reach their full potential. Compound that stress with years of drought and warmer winters and they become susceptible to bug infestation, which can lead to death.
The last few years have been a perfect storm for tree mortality, Schweizer told The Sheet on Thursday. Beetles have always been a part of the forest ecosystem and most of their larvae would perish during winter deep freezes, keeping the population from growing too much or eating too many trees. With warmer temperatures, those hard freezes aren’t happening and the bugs are flourishing and taking advantage of the stressed trees. The Sierra is one to two degrees warmer than it was 50 years ago, Schweizer explained.
A survey completed this fall concluded that tree mortality in the INF is approaching 15 percent and could reach as much as 40 percent in the next decades.
This isn’t a passing phase, Schwiezer said, “The forest 20 years from now is not going to be the same forest we see today.”