Best of the West: Research shows historical success of cultural burning; atmospheric river battering California; battling food insecurity on the reservation

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting Jan. 25, 2021. (Photo of  "collaborative cultural burn" courtesy University of California Davis)    

The historic 2020 wildfire season may be over but planning to prevent the next big wildfire season never ends. Western Governors emphasized that during their recent Winter Meeting roundtable discussion about wildfires and steps that states can take to improve landscape resilience, including the increased use of prescribed fires.

A recent episode of the WGA podcast Out West, Reintroducing Natural Fire in Western Landscapes Out West, examined ways that fire can be used to restore western lands through prescribed burns, managed fires and cultural burnings. The latter method, cultural burnings, has been practiced successfully for centuries by Native Americans, as noted in a recently published paper in the National Academy of the Sciences.

The paper notes that while the challenge of wildfires to the “wildland-urban interface” (WUI) seems distinctly modern, “Native American communities have lived in WUI contexts for centuries.” The researchers examined the practices of ancestors of the Jemez Pueblo in northern New Mexico to "document the dynamism and stability of an ancient WUI that was apparently sustainable for more than 500 years."

Read the paper to learn about the “ecologically savvy intensive burning and wood collection” practices that helped make their ancient WUI resistant to the threat of wildfires.

CALIFORNIA STORMING: The dangerous winds that battered Northern California through Wednesday have calmed. But extreme weather is expected to continue through Friday (Jan. 29), with up to 3 feet of snow possible at Tahoe-area ski resorts that have already received a foot of snow this week. And all that moisture may cause flash floods near Sacramento at the burn scar from last year’s LNU Lightning Complex wildfire. (Read) The storm is the result of an "atmospheric river," an airborne weather pattern that transports water vapor outside of the tropics. Learn the science behind an atmospheric river from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

THE FOREST AND THE TREES: Ever wonder how many trees — and what kind —are in forests across the country? Wonder no more, thanks to the Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, which has developed Tree Map. The Missoulian reports how a team of fire researchers in Missoula crunched together two enormous databases to create the inventory of 2.8 billion trees. The report notes they also added “topographic details like elevation, slope and sun exposure.” The database is more than just a list. A wildland fire incident manager can use that information to tell a ground crew where to build the best fire line. Or loggers can estimate more precisely how much marketable wood they can expect from a timber sale. Learn more.

FOOD INSECURITY: Fresh vegetables are hard to come by on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. That's just one of the reasons, Wyoming Public Media reports, that Native Americans on the reservation have a life expectancy 20 years shorter than non-Indigenous people in the state. Since 2016 a community-based research project, Growing Resilience, has studied "how growing your own fruits and vegetables can help combat food insecurity." And the study employs an interesting approach that uses "storytelling." Learn more.

STATE OF THE STATE: This week saw Hawaii Gov. David Ige and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham become the latest Western Governors to deliver a State of the State address. They join Doug Burgum of North Dakota, Brad Little of Idaho, Doug Ducey of Arizona, Laura Kelly of Kansas, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Steve Sisolak of Nevada, Kate Brown of Oregon, Spencer Cox of Utah, and Lemanu Mauga of American Samoa, who previously delivered addresses. Read, watch all addresses.

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