Home | About | Donate

Wildfires Are Getting Worse: Time to Rehydrate Our Landscapes


Wildfires Are Getting Worse: Time to Rehydrate Our Landscapes

Judith Schwartz

The west is still in the thick of wildfire season and 2016 is already one to leave Smoky the Bear in tears. California is seeing a 20 percent uptick in fires compared to 2015—itself a rough fire year—while a fast-moving blaze has virtually destroyed the California town of Lower Lake. A story in today’s Washington Post grimly begins: “California is burning.”


Dead trees aren't a wildfire threat, but overlogging them will ruin our forest ecosystems:



Somebody would come along and make me appreciate the humidity of New Jersey in August. Thunderstorms are just skidding south of me. I haven't seen what the beavers have been able to do toward recovery since the downpours of Sandy and Irene, when many of the ponds washed out. Hmm.


It is wonderful to see this while I still smell the smoke.

The Sierras have gotten warmer, the pines are dying wholesale and becoming tinder, government agencies and local people are goosing around trying to work out ways of making money from it, and it will mostly all burn although not a bit of any of that is necessary.

When the tops of the watershed are denuded, the water in them releases, rainfall is reduced by something close to 40%, and temperatures rise 10 to 15 degrees F (that's local weather, not climate, and the change is less where you already have a desert).

In this case, "downslope" includes the large urban communities of California and the agricultural land of the Central Valley from Bakersfield up north past Chico: of late, the most productive agricultural area in the US.

Driving by, I can already see where vintners have pulled out 5-year-old grapes (just ready to produce well) and left peach, orange, and almond orchards to dry for insurance or government subsidy.

There are straightforward, relatively easy, tested and true ways to change this under the general rubric of permaculture. We have to get the sorts of techniques involved in these projects into forestry.


Look at what a handful of people have accomplished in downtown Tucson.

Youtube video:
Dryland harvesting home hacks sun, rain, food & surroundings

Published on Aug 7, 2016
When Brad Lancaster and his brother bought their home in downtown Tucson, the streetscape was a dusty place, devoid of trees or any vegetation.

In 1996 Lancaster and his neighbors started an annual tree planting project, which up until now has resulted in over 1,400 native food-bearing trees being planted (usually with water-harvesting earthworks) in the neighborhood. In 2004, Lancaster augmented the street tree planting by using a 14-inch, gas powered circular saw to cut away part of his curb to divert street runoff into his street-side tree basins. When the walkway in front of his home sprouted with life- like mesquite and palo verde trees- many of his neighbors wanted to cut their curbs as well. Lancaster approached the city to convince them to make his water-harvesting technique legal. It took three years for the city to change the rules. Today, three quarters of the neighbors on his block are harvesting rainwater.

Tucson receives just 11 inches of rainwater per year, but Brad argues this is enough. “Tucson has over a 4,000 year history of continuous farming despite this being a drylands desert community. People thrived creating crops, domesticating crops that are uniquely adapted to this climate, but in less than 100 years we almost wiped it out by becoming reliant on very extractive pumps, extracting the groundwater, diverting the river to the extent that we actually killed our river, we dropped our groundwater table over 300 feet so we didn’t want to plug into that paradigm.”

Today, Lancaster’s downtown Tucson neighborhood (Dunbar/Spring) is alive with drought-tolerant, food-bearing trees and residents harvest from the barrel cactus (chutneys, hair conditioner from fruit), the prickly pear cactus (juice, syrup & natural sweeteners from fruit), the ironwood tree (peanut-flavored nuts, processed like edamame), jojoba (oil, coffee substitute), mesquite (“native carob”, flour) and sweets from the “iconic saguaro cactus”.

More at the link above.


Actually, dead trees burn dramatically, particularly pines and other things with aromatic resins, since these have oils.

However, the proper solution is really, really not to remove them, and that really is what all sorts of state and local groups are contemplating.

That takes the organic material out of the landscape and denudes it about as quickly as a fire.

The trick is get the organic material back into and onto the soil, then stop the water, spread it, and sink it. When this is accomplished, where it is accomplished, you will again have a forest, bit by bit.

This can be done. There are examples, and here are some descriptions:

  • The Lesson of the Loess Plateau. Film by John Liu.
  • Greening the Desert(I and II) Film clip with Geoff Lawton.
  • Rainwater Harvesting I and II. Brad Lancaster. Books
  • Permaculture: A Designer's Manual. Bill Mollison
  • Beyond the War on Invasive Species. Tao Orion. Book.

There are lots of others. The sooner we get started, the less work will have to be done and the more resources we will be able to access to get it done.


Wonderful link.

I have about half the rain here that Tucson gets, and that supports pinyons, paloverde, Rhus ovata, some oaks, and some mesquite without extra water after the first year or so--but with a bit of water-gathering earthworks.

I need to find someone with a hammermill to get that high-end flour from the mesquite pods, but meanwhile they are tasty and satisfying stewed and chewed.

The prickly pear do need some summer water here because we do not get those gorgeous mid-summer cloudbursts that Arizona and New Mexico do. But they are wonderfully productive. With a little canning, I have greens year-round from just a bit of irrigation in the spring, plus buckets of fruit. Have you worked out a way to get the food value out of the seeds? Apparently some of the older Mexican queso de tuna recipes manage this, but I have not yet had success.

There is so much area where all of this could just be freely available, at a benefit to all. There's just the matter of arranging it.


Has anyone tried shredding the dead trees to produce mulch? It probably wouldn't require any more work than removal, and could lead to regeneration of the soil.


Whereabouts are you?
Great to hear what you've accomplished.


I am amazed that he wasn't charged for the water!


Thanks for the information


Chippers have been used on private land. And yes, it works. The wood is less apt to burn quickly laying down and could even be buried in some places, though that would cost more. And it would decompose and go back to soil quickly, though that tends to be pretty slow out this way. The Sierra gets more rain than I do (I am in the Mojave Desert), but it's pretty dry.

Chipping itself costs a good deal less than removal, and one still has the processing to so on the other end after removal. Consequently, it is a good bet that were logging to occur, whatever was not profitable would just be left in whatever state someone found convenient-- you would still have your fire, presumably, and the hills left without the carbon, plus whatever problems and expenses were created by the process.

My understanding via an associate who is attending the relevant meetings on several sides is that apparently no one is ready to field the work without receiving the lumber, and the government people involved are protecting their commissions and so forth.


Thanks. I am near the western rim of the Mojave Desert about 3200 feet up, northeast of Los Angeles, and right now under another huge bank of smoke that looks like it's coming from the other side of the 15 freeway.


You are welcome. I did an online permaculture design course a few years ago with Geoff Lawton. It was a bit more of an investment, but extremely helpful.


Part of the problem with regards to any certain nutrient uptake by Green living plants is that over the last number of years they have for climate change been moved forward by the burning of fossil fuels notably coal.

part of the constituent parts of coal is the release of mercury into the atmosphere.

this Mercury when deposited upon the land is something that has been taken up by Green living plants it interrupts the Krebs cycle which is necessary for the energy production for plants.

and we do not know the full extent of the ramifications of having deposited this on our forests and grasslands in the United States notably because during the time period of the Clinton Administration these types of studies were supressed in favor of the coal companies.

It was being suppressed by the National Science Foundation this probably continued and although I have not checked, to the present day. Weaked biota are susceptiple to disease and insect attacks so that abnormal dieoffs may happen. This in turn i hypothesize could increase burns and the severity


Yes, there is much we can do. Even the US Government knows this: http://naldc.nal.usda.gov/download/11228/PDF

That 13 year-old study has been verified many times over by these folks: http://soilcarboncoalition.org/

it is easy to over-complicate the challenge. It is not difficult to take a direct approach and dramatically reduce fire challenges wherever there are humans.

Even my garden benefits annually by the carbon I store in the soil. Or, rather, the carbon I welcome the plants in the garden storing in the soil for later water retention.

Be well. There is much we can all do rather than just talk about what needs to be done and what is/isn't being done.


I need the simple :cry: reaction from Facebook.


Yes. And still blazing away, clearly, as of Wednesday afternoon. 82,000 residents is quite a few people out here.


Big Sur is an awful lot of fuel, and a lot of erosion if it gets a rain this winter. Oh, it was so dense and green when I saw it, and the blue blue Pacific underneath!


Check out the work of Alan Savory and his Holistic Resource Management approach to soil building and land management.