A healthy forest is less dense than you are likely used to seeing. In a healthy forest, grasses mingle with shrubs and trees to create a habitat that supports a diversity of plants and animals. Because parasites and disease tend to target single species, a forest with a wide variety of trees is more resilient than one with a lot of only one kind of tree. Stronger, more mature trees reduce erosion, which is essential to maintaining a clean watershed. They also absorb and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere more effectively, which eases the effects of climate change.
Occasional fire is nature’s way of maintaining healthy forest conditions. A low, patchy burn returns nutrients to the soil and starts the growth of new plants. Weaker plants and low-growing overgrowth are cleared away, leaving mature trees and plants to thrive in a less competitive space.
How are our forests doing?
Unfortunately, due to decades of fire suppression, many of our forests have grown to an unhealthy density. Too many plants compete for resources, reducing their capacity to combat disease. There’s less biodiversity because there’s no space for plants and animals that prefer open spaces. When fires start in forests like ours, they burn hotter and spread more quickly, making them difficult to control. The danger is compounded by climate change whose resulting drought adds even more dry plant debris to burn.
What are we doing about it?
San Mateo County Parks is engaged in a variety of projects aimed at returning our forests to a healthy density. By removing overgrowth and debris we are simultaneously improving the vitality of our forests, combating climate change, and reducing risk to the community of uncontrollable wildfire.