Paul Hessburg: Why wildfires have gotten worse -- and what we can do about it
Paul Hessburg - Research ecologist
Paul Hessburg studies very large forest landscapes and what makes them tick. Full bio
of western forests have burned
is actually why my family and I live here.
about what we're leaving behind
than the state of Oregon has burned
have been destroyed.
have steadily increased
than 100,000 acres --
we've managed this western landscape
that we are currently seeing
studying these western landscapes,
of our fire-management habits,
of our beloved forests.
some tough truths about wildfires,
to learn to better live with them
to talk to you about today.
of 100 or 150 years ago.
were taken in the 1930s
these forests of old is "patchy."
was this constantly evolving patchwork
canopy forests of all ages,
by today's standards.
that this landscape was open,
of the open forest
shaping this historical patchwork:
whether a place faces north or south
or in a valley bottom;
gets a lot of snow and rain,
shaped the way fire behaved
between the patterns and the processes.
and fairly far apart.
and when they occurred,
and fires were less frequent,
they were quite a bit more severe.
the environments that they grew in
they all worked together
across the landscape.
of fire across the landscape.
helped the rest of the forest
lived on this landscape,
and to thin certain forests
and the bison that they hunted.
fires of summer.
much later, in the mid-1800s,
grazing was in high gear.
the cattle and the sheep ate the grasses
for the historical fires,
from thinning out trees
and they acted as potent firebreaks,
across this landscape.
which caused a sudden pivot
of the state of Connecticut.
to western Montana,
three million acres,
and it killed 87 people.
became public enemy number one,
that we would think about wildfire
just five years young at the time,
of putting out all wildfires
ability to put fires out,
it was now fire suppression
shaper of our forests.
got going in the west,
the large and the old trees.
of centuries of wildfires.
small trees filled in the gaps,
with trees so layered and close together
by roads and railroads,
and logging, removing the big trees,
the current epidemic of trees.
looked like 100 years ago and today,
sculptured by mostly small
so close together,
tree sizes and ages
from acre to acre,
and insect outbreaks,
on the forest floor,
are getting hotter
40 to 80 days longer each year.
climatologists are predicting
in the middle of this.
of all new housing starts are being built
the power of the patchwork.
the severity of many of our future fires.
that we have tools
to intentionally thin out trees
reduce them and keep them reduced.
patches on the landscape
with some of these treatments
some of these treatments,
is that prescribed burning produces
regulated under air quality rules
in the summers
to get this changed.
of the patchwork.
and climate explanations,
and it will take us humans to solve it.
are not well-supported.
to magically go away
with them, don't we?
without lots of fire and lots of smoke.
make it our high priority
the current situation,
continued losses to megafires.
to our lawmakers,
are burned black?
About the speaker:Paul Hessburg - Research ecologist
Paul Hessburg studies very large forest landscapes and what makes them tick.
Why you should listen
Paul Hessburg is a research ecologist who builds models of historical and modern era conditions in large forests and studies what factors make them behave as they do. In fact, much of his research is trying to decipher what is normal. In his research, Hessburg wants to know how the forests we inherited worked before we changed them. What did "natural" look like, and what specifically did we change about naturalness? What's still working well, and what could use a hand down?
Hessburg has spent most of his adult life (35 years) in his dream job. He works for the USDA, Forest Service, at the Pacific Northwest Research Station, where he is stationed at a field laboratory in Wenatchee, WA, US. That's located about five blocks just east of heaven, he says. He has a doctorate in Forest Pathology from Oregon State University, and he has been working in forestry for 40 years. He's also an Affiliate Professor at the University of Washington, Seattle, USA.
In 2017, Hessburg was awarded his Research Station's Distinguished Scientist Award, and he will be awarded his Agencies' Distinguished Scientist Award for 2017, in February of 2018.
Over the last two years, Paul has traveled and spoken to over 100 western US communities about the new era of megafires and what we can do about it. As he says, "Unless we change a few of our forest and fire management habits in the US, we will lose many more beloved forests; some won’t recover in our lifetime."
Paul Hessburg | Speaker | TED.com