Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Thoughts on fire and sprawl

Watching the fires in Southern California is sobering. While we don't face the Santa Ana winds here in the Central Sierra, our forested areas and chaparral are, much like those to the south, fire-adapted ecosystems. Fires are a normal part of the ecology.

When we fill the forest and chaparral with scattered houses, creating the so-called "wildland-urban interface," we create a greater risk of the kind of destruction we're seeing down south this week.

We may not have the Santa Anas, but we can get some fast-moving fires of our own, like the Power Fire that burned in the North Fork Mokelumne canyon in 2004. That fire could have jumped Highway 88 and burned west into populated areas of the county with impunity had nature not intervened in the form of cold rain and wet snow. Let's all hope the south state gets that kind of break soon.

As Amador County updates its general plan, the county would do well to consider how to protect life and property through land use planning that takes the reality of fire into account.
It makes no sense from a fire protection point of view to encourage the development of more small parcels and homes in the county's rural areas. Compact, town-centered development is a much better way to address the human, environmental and economic cost of fire.

Excellent recommendations related to sprawl and fire are found in the latest publication from the Sierra Nevada Alliance, Dangerous Development: Wildfire and Rural Sprawl in the Sierra Nevada. Everyone who cares about land use planning in the Sierra and California should read this publication.

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