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Chaparral, Embers and Fire Prevention Solutions

Wildland fires and SoCal community struggle with the chaparral, embers and recovery discussion heating up.

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Chaparral and SoCal Fires

I studied about Southern California's "fire-prone" geography 20 years before I moved to California. In an Oklahoma (OSU) college-level physical geography class, our instructor showed us films about the earthquakes, the fire-loving plants and the diversity of California's terrain. I vowed never to live in such dangerous territory. And here I am in Los Angeles, working my fingers to the bone trying to inform, enlighten and support Californians who either love or hate nature's local diversity.

The air is clearing overhead a bit...but it's getting steamy indoors! People from inside and outside our communities are lurching into the fray -- just like we did about New Orlean's tragedy.

Native plants. Fire. Wildlife. Fire. Invasive plants. Fire. Encroachment. Fire. Firefighters' lives. Fire. Money. Fire. You get the picture. Fire...

Follow the money and you can understand why the fight is just heating up. Development in prime natural locations is truly California's gold and we want it both ways. We want to live close to nature, but we don't want to face nature's close encounters of the disaster kind.

I'd LOVE to live in nature. Instead I live on the third floor of a planned unit development in a Los Angeles community with density of more than 3,000 people per square mile. Why do I live here? Because I don't beleive in high risk behavior. I don't believe we have the moral right to sprawl into our wilderness areas. Live and a functioning ecosystem deserves better.

I also respect the American dream of owning a home or business that families feel is the culmination of working a lifetime...being close to your genetic roots and being one with nature. But...

Here are the carbon footprints of a different sort that are starting to track through our news media. Pro. Con. But pro and con of what, exactly? Discussion is good. Transparency is green and working together as a community is what sustainable community is about.

Fires Turn Up Heat On a Key Advocate Of California Shrubs By PETER SANDERS October 25, 2007; Page A1, Wall Street Journal

As wildfires raged in Southern California this week, Richard Halsey's embrace of the local shrubland turned prickly.

The founding director of the California Chaparral Institute, Mr. Halsey has spent four years defending the existence of chaparral, the term given to the wide varieties of shrubby plants, trees and bushes that dot the region's hilly landscape. His Web site,, celebrates its diverse plant life, seasonal ponds that gleam like "liquid sapphires" and birdlife that includes bushtits and towhees.


"Embers are why a lot of these structures got taken out," says Mr. Halsey. "The only way to get rid of the embers is to get rid of the vegetation."

He remains opposed to controlled burns or clear-cutting vegetation in the wild. But from now on, he says, in his speaking engagements he will put much more emphasis on keeping the chaparral away from homes and other buildings.

"My passion and my bias is to favor the environment and the natural habitats," Mr. Halsey said yesterday afternoon as he walked by several burned-out homes. But after this fire, he says, "I have a greater appreciation now for the impact of vegetation near structures than I did before."

Mr. Halsey has no plans to overhaul his Web site to give it an anti-chaparral viewpoint. But he might add first-hand stories about fireproofing homes near chaparral. "I'll definitely add a line on the Web site that clearly says, 'Chaparral presents a real fire risk.'"

The real story is that having to defend your own family and home from flames has a tendency to realign one's world. I will definitely turn up the volume on the importance of proper vegetation management, but the fact that chaparral poses a high fire risk is nothing new. And no, I am not going to add a line about that on my website. It has been there front and center for quite some time.

Rick Halsey
The California Chaparral Institute ...the voice of the chaparral
P.O. Box 545
Escondido, CA 92033

The California Chaparral Institute has a robust coverage of "Fire & Nature" -- with information about Desert fires, Grass fires, and Forest fires.

"Southern California wildfires are typically shrubland fires and have nothing to with trees. Surprising to many is the fact that forests only comprised about 5 percent of the total acreage burned during the 2003 firestorm in Southern California," states Halsey on his website.

Reading about the history of the 2003 fires and the post-fire recovery gives hope and instruction about what's to come. The question to be answered now is whether the 2007 fire is different. Whether the temperature of the fire damaged the land more than the 2003 fires...whether the same recovery of the natural and human landscape can be equated.

We will follow this human and natural system story to find answers to these kinds of solution stories.

Carolyn Allen
Editor, Publisher
California Green Solutions

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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