What the Golden State Can Learn From the Sunshine State About Managing Wildfires

Opposite coasts. Similar struggles.

Though wildfires threaten both states annually, California has endured a far greater number of devastating fires in recent years then Florida. According to the Sierra Club, prescribed burning, a practice that can be traced back to Florida’s early Native American inhabitants, has likely helped the state manage ecosystems and keep potentially damaging fires at bay.

“Scientists and land managers almost universally agree that prescribed fire is the single best tool available to help mitigate wildfire risk. Landowners in the American Southeast use more prescribed fire than in any other part of the country. But across much of the American West—which has captured an outsized proportion of the public imagination around wildfire—scientists say land management agencies aren’t using fire nearly enough.

“In 2017, federal and state forest managers, ranchers, and private property owners in Florida, which many fire scientists consider the prescribed fire capital of the country, burned more than 2 million acres, according to data compiled by the nonprofit Climate Central. That same year, California—which is twice the size of Florida and has six times more acres in public land—burned less than 50,000 acres. Oregon burned 48,000, Idaho 33,000, Montana 24,000, and Nevada 5,000.”

California faces economic, geographic and organizational challenges to implementing a controlled burn program. But would it be worth the cost and policy changes needed to clear a path to more aggressive prescribed burning statewide? And what about air quality?

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