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Media Advisory, October 26, 2007

Contact: David Hogan, (619) 473-8217(office), or (760) 809-9244(cell)

Southern California Wildfires Take Staggering Toll;
Change Needed to Protect People and Nature

SAN DIEGO, Calif.– Environmental advocates with the Center for Biological Diversity have proposed a number of steps to reduce the harmful effects of future southern California wildfires on people, wildlife, plants, and endangered species.

“The southern California fires have been terrible for people and our hearts go out to those who have lost so much,” said David Hogan, a conservation manager with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The fundamental cause of harm from the fires is rampant subdivision and home building that puts people in harm’s way.”

“There’s another emerging tragedy, and that’s the massive harm the fires have caused to natural lands, animals, and plants,” said Hogan. “Fires kill and displace many animals, and sprawling urban development has wiped out many areas that might once have provided a refuge for survivors. One of the greatest fire tragedies for nature has been the reburning of areas lost in 2003 that had only just begun to recover. This may be the last straw for many endangered species that have already suffered so much habitat loss to development and overly frequent fire – the California gnatcatcher, California spotted owl, Coastal cactus wren, Hermes copper butterfly, and many others.”

“A prevailing myth is that past fire suppression has allowed uncontrolled plant growth and an increased risk of unnaturally severe fire,” said Hogan. “While this is true of some forests, California's chaparral is actually experiencing more fire than is natural owing to human ignitions. Chaparral has evolved with fire and is very resilient under the right conditions. But too much fire, including prescribed fire, destroys habitat and allows exotic grasses to replace natural vegetation. The fact that areas burned in 2003 were burned again shows that prescribed fire in chaparral is not an effective fire-protection tool and in fact is likely to be counterproductive. Ultimately, chaparral has been the scapegoat when in fact this is an extraordinarily rich natural community that provides significant natural and economic values to people including protection of reservoirs, water quality, soils, and air quality.”

“Rather than removing and destroying more important natural chaparral habitat, future harm from fires can only be reduced by limiting development in fire-prone areas, requiring fire-resistant construction, and making sure there’s defensible space around existing homes,” said Hogan.

The following steps are needed to better protect people and nature in southern California from wildfire:

  • Development within fire-prone natural lands should be discouraged.
  • Fire-protection funding and incentives should be provided to encourage retrofitting or remodeling existing homes and the creation of defensible space in the immediate vicinity of communities and homes. Funding should also be provided to purchase and conserve private land in fire-prone areas.
  • Vegetation management for fire protection should be focused near the edge of communities and homes, not remote areas.
  • Forests should be restored and managed by thinning small trees and shrubs, protecting large valuable wildlife trees and snags, prescribed burning, and removing grazing.
  • Prescribed fire should be discontinued in chaparral except as needed for defensible space in the immediate vicinity of communities and homes.
  • Chaparral should be restored in areas that have been replaced with flammable exotic invasive weeds.
  • Burned areas should not be seeded. Most seed mixes contain nonnative weeds.
  • The significant economic values of chaparral and other native vegetation to people should be recognized, including protection of reservoirs, water quality, soils, and air quality.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 35,000 members dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


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