• Sat. Nov 26th, 2022

California cities devastated by wildfires should be rebuilt

OPINION AND COMMENT

Editorials and other opinion pieces provide perspectives on issues important to our community and are independent of the work of our news editors.

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The chimney of a home destroyed by last year’s Dixie Fire in the town of Greenville, Plumas County.

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A year after the Dixie Fire, the second largest wildfire in California history, our small community of Greenville, Plumas County, is showing resilience. Despite the devastating loss of much of the city, local residents and small businesses have come together to rebuild, although some question whether we should be doing so.

In light of the modern reality of catastrophic wildfires in California, experts, journalists and others debate the causes and relative value of rebuilding fire-ravaged rural communities in wildfire-prone areas. Based on the cost of rebuilding, the size of the rural population, and even broad assumptions about the political affiliations of its residents, the arguments against rebuilding reflect an offensive and gross underestimate of the value of rural California.

Over 80% of the US Forest Service’s land in the state and most of our prized national parks are located in rural California, attracting tourists from across the nation and the world. Our rural regions have vital watersheds, power and water infrastructure, and agricultural commodities that deliver critical resources far beyond their localities.

Providing these valuable goods and services requires local labor. Rural communities serve as workers, protect the environment, and sustain important industries for the benefit of all Californians.

In addition, the cost of living in rural areas is often much lower than in other parts of the state. Unless devastated communities are rebuilt, many rural residents will be forced to look beyond the state for affordable housing. This would deprive rural California of skilled labor.

It is also a misconception that rebuilt communities in wildfire-prone areas will inevitably burn again. Catastrophic forest fires have occurred not only because of the onset of climate change, but also because of decades of forest mismanagement that has resulted in lush overgrowth.

Forest health projects such as mandatory burning have been shown to moderate and even halt the progression of megafires and protect communities, as the Caldor fire recently demonstrated. Fuel reduction projects implemented years before the incident were credited with protecting the communities of Christmas Valley and Meyers. Such projects can significantly reduce wildfire risk for rebuilt communities.

The threat of disaster is not limited to rural communities. Many California communities, both rural and urban, are at high risk, whether from floods, earthquakes or fires. The cost of cleaning up and rebuilding after such events is invariably high, and there would be few places left to live in California if we abandoned a community with the potential for disaster.

Mismanagement and overgrowth of our forests have evolved over nearly a century and combined with a changing climate have created the threat of megafires that many parts of the state are now facing. It takes long-term state and federal spending on sustainable forest management to adequately mitigate the risk to our environment and communities. Recent investments by state and federal governments have recognized this need, but much remains to be done.

The importance and necessity of managing our forests and rebuilding our fire-ravaged communities cannot be underestimated. Rural communities in California play a critical role in protecting and providing resources and services used by people across the state.

Kevin Goss is the Plumas County Supervisor and Delegate for the Rural County Representatives of California.

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