For decades now, there has been much politicking around wildfires and how implementing thinning of forests in federal lands can reduce serious forest fires. Moreover, like many people, you might be quick to say that such an approach is an obvious solution. But, you would be wrong to rush into such a conclusion.
Then why is implementing forest thinning to reduce wildfires not an ideal case?
A study of the behaviour of the 1996 and 1999 fires on Glen Tanar Estate, for instance, clearly show that though both fires were wind driven, the 1999 fire spread at a slower rate, but with a higher forward ROS. However, as the 1999 fire encountered areas that previously burned in the 1996 fire, it self-extinguished.
Yes, you read that right — the 1999 fire went out in most parts of the estate without any human intervention. The clincher is, regardless of whether you thin forests or not, most forest fires will burn out.
That is not all
These wildfires burned not only when weather conditions were ripe but also through overgrazed rangelands and thinned federal forests. In short, no efforts that previously aimed at reducing fuel on which the fires would burn changed the extent these fires reached.
Why? You will ask
First, the thinning projects only included the mechanical reduction of canopy density without confiscating the fine twigs on the ground from the thinning process. Second, neither were there follow-up maintenance procedures to remove the vegetation on the forest floor that flourished even more after thinning, making the forests more prone to the wildfires.
Accompanying forest thinning with the latter two strategies would have otherwise reduced fire spread; a comprehensive project that Sevenoaks’ local government can implement with the help of experienced tree surgeons.
Now, is forest thinning all but a waste of time?
No, but it is wise to limit forest thinning to the immediate areas surrounding houses and towns. Why? No one wants communities to burn up, and it is easy to approach the fires from open spaces, thus cost effective.
With the help of professional tree surgeons, the local government will also minimise the effects of ecological imbalance in Sevenoaks’ forests as a result of large-scale thinning.