Adapting to Wildfires on the Urban Edge in Southern California

Watch Professor Jon. E. Keeley give a short introduction to his Oppenheim Lecture, held November 4, 2009.

Southern California has experienced nine megafires over 100,000 acres in size since the late 1880s and over half of them have occurred in the last 6 years. This recent fire activity has raised concerns about how to reduce fire hazard to a growing population living in or near hazardous areas, how to control the spiraling costs of wildfire and yet still maintain natural ecosystems. While local flora and fauna are adapted to tolerating occasional fires, these natural ecosystems cannot be sustained with the current frequency and intensity of fire activity. Severe droughts are a factor in this recent fire activity and are also connected to climate change and other global changes faced by the region.

Dr. Keeley will discuss ways in which communities must learn to adapt to these conditions to avoid more human, economic and ecological cost. He will explain why the cities in the Southern Californias mega-region can no longer depend exclusively on local, state and federal fire fighting agencies to minimize damages from wildfires. Local involvement in reducing exposure to wildland fires will be necessary to avoid costs to the taxpayer, costs of massive evacuations, losses to home and business and the wildland ecosystems. Human adaptation to this fire prone environment will only happen with better coordination between decision makers at the local, state and federal levels.

Jon E. Keeley, Ph.D. is Adjunct Professor, UCLA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Resource Ecologist, USGS Western Ecological Research Center.