Humans impact forests in many ways
Are we loving our forests to death?
Humans have had an undeniable impact on forest health over the centuries, especially when it comes to fire suppression, the introduction of invasive species and over-logging in the 19th and early 20th centuries. We’ve learned from mistakes, improved practices and gained incredible knowledge and expertise about forest science and forest management. But in recent years, a new human factor has arisen: more people are living in or near wildland areas.
The Wildland/Urban Interface
The West has experienced population booms in the past decade and many residents are choosing to live in or close to forests and wildlands. More people than ever before in Idaho are living in what is called the “wildland/urban interface”. This creates additional complexity to an already difficult problem: how to reduce insect and disease outbreaks in our forests and, when fire strikes, decrease threats to life and personal property.
Humans Cause Most Wildland Fires
The probability of human-ignited fire is greater where there are more people. In fact, in 2018, people started the majority of Idaho’s wildfires: 202 wildfires in Idaho were caused by humans, while just 56 were caused by lighting. In addition to causing extensive forest destruction, wildfires are increasingly claiming structures, forcing evacuations and causing loss of life.
How do human-caused fires start?
- Burning debris
- Unattended campfires
- Engine sparks
Watch a CBS 60 Minutes segment on wildfire in the US here.
Forest Management to Reduce Fire Risk? Some Residents Oppose
Management techniques to reduce risk — thinning and prescribed burning, for example – may be opposed on aesthetic grounds by residents. Forest managers must work with the public and scientists to determine what management techniques are used.
Leave No Trace
Idaho forests are beautiful and many Idahoans love camping, hiking, mountain biking and recreating in them. Unfortunately, there is a small percentage of people who are impacting our forests in negative ways: littering, trampling vegetation, not disposing human waste properly, creating conflicts with wildlife and illegally chopping firewood.
Lessons From Fire
When one human causes a fire, it takes thousands of people and millions in resources to try and stop it from destroying habitat, homes and lives. The cost to fight federal fires is escalating every year. In 2017, it cost nearly $3 billion. And the loss of life has devastating impacts. Six firefighters battling the Carr fire and 79 others lost their lives in California in 2018.
Forest managers are using our understanding of fire’s historical role to manage forest sustainably for the future. Three common management tools used to limit the severity of wildfire and help improve fire resiliency include thinning prescribed burning after thinning and mechanical treatments such as logging. Reducing fuel loads by thinning trees and harvesting timber help make forests more resilient to wildfires. Learn more about forest management here.
Learn the principles of Leave No Trace.