Global wildfires vs ecosystem restoration

Sep 2020

We are sure you have been following the news with growing dismay about the forest fires around the world. California has featured heavily in the news. We are receiving alarming reports from our camps. Last week camp Farm of the Future in Brazil reported that 70% of the campsite has been devastated by a wildfire. This week we learned that the people at Camp Hotlum in California are being evacuated, including our own John Liu who has been at this camp for the past few months. The camps in Australia are also preparing for another fire season. We feel certain that the entire ERC community is ready to contribute towards stopping these fires.

These devastating wildfires are a stark reminder that we are living with the disastrous effects of climate change.

The severity of the current fires – reported to be the worst in 18 years – is staggering. It is estimated that around one million acres of land have burned in the state of California alone. Thousands of climate refugees have been displaced, having been forced to evacuate and watch in terror as their homes and surrounding forests have been razed to the ground.

The wildfires clearly highlight the critical need for large scale ecosystem restoration, regenerative agriculture, and reforestation. Now more than ever, it is vital to reverse the effects of land degradation that is bringing about biodiversity loss, a lack of food and water security, compromised livelihoods and a reduction in carbon sequestration, which is essential to stave off the worst effects of climate change and to create a safe CO2 level in the atmosphere.

The growing annual occurrence of wildfires can be attributed to the weak and compromised state of forest ecosystems, caused by centuries of undermining human behaviour. A lack of understanding of the important role of forest ecosystems is evident in the damaging forestry practise of clear cutting which destroys the ecological integrity of the land. This, along with the marginalisation and disempowerment of indigenous people who previously managed forests through traditional prescribed burning, has left these arboreal landscapes vulnerable to the effects of global warming and lacking in fire resilience.

Short sighted and irresponsible land use has not only set towns and the wilderness ablaze but is also threatening the survival of some of our current ecosystem restoration projects. These relatively young projects may not yet have the strength and resilience to withstand massive fires encroaching from the surrounding brittle and fragile ecosystems.

Camp Hotlum is located near the base of Mount Shasta in Northern California and is dedicated to teaching fire management using the techniques of controlled burning and bio char production to reduce the fire fuel load. There has not been a fire event at Hotlum since 1922 but this week camp residents were ordered out by law enforcement and the Shasta–Trinity National Forests have been closed, amid fears that the prevailing winds and hot, dry conditions are placing the area under direct threat of a wildfire.

Amongst those affected is our founder John D. Liu who has taken refuge at Camp Hotlum during the Coronavirus pandemic, which has prevented him from travelling back home to China.

Camp Paradise, located in the Sierra Nevada foothills, is the world’s first ecosystem restoration disaster response camp. The camp was set up following the catastrophic 2018 wildfire which destroyed the town of Paradise and its surrounding communities. This unique, mobile camp is an initiative of Camp Fire Restoration Project, which serves multiple locations in and around the area known as “The Camp Fire Burn Scar”, providing workshops and training to the community on restoration techniques.

Camp Fire Restoration Project is acutely aware that that partnering with indigenous groups is critical to finding solutions to address the annual California fires. They are in conversation with local Mechoopda Tribal representatives who provide Traditional Ecological Knowledge training. The project is looking to support this training and – under the guidance of the indigenous people – will explore traditional burning as a wildfire preventative measure in the Spring.

Moving further afield to Brazil, Farm of the Future is a 500-hectare former cattle-ranch in the Amazon Cerrado region that is being transformed into a prototype regenerative farm. This camp – still in its early stages of development – has been working to restore the Amazon-Savanna ecosystem, however more than 70% of the farm was destroyed earlier this week in a fire thought to have been caused by high temperatures and winds.

In Australia an estimated 18.6 million hectares burned in the 2019-20 bushfire season. New South Wales state has regarded it as the worst bushfire season in memory. With Summer and the next fire season approaching fast, we’ll be keeping a watchful eye on Camp Reforest Now in New South Wales and Camp Regenerate in Western Australia.

While one can easily feel stunned into inactivity by the scale of the wildfire problem, projects like Camp Paradise provide hope. There is a chance for us to restore massively degraded systems. Resilient and healthy ecosystems can be recreated but we need to act now to get larger areas of land under restoration and to develop stronger allegiances with local communities and farmers. Watersheds and water cycles need to be restored, aquifers refilled, and soil nourished to enable it to retain the moisture required to build resilience against fire.

This large-scale ecosystem restoration and rehabilitation, and regenerative agriculture is what Ecosystem Restoration Camps is working to achieve through its global movement. The 36 different camps located across six continents make it possible for ordinary people to play a role in the mitigation and adaptation to climate change and to restore ecological function. The camps have the capacity to train hundreds and hundreds of people on how to take on this task of restoration, which is now becoming central to our survival.

It takes commitment and courage to turn the tide on ecological degradation and its impact on the wellbeing of nature and humanity. It requires coming together to act in the collective interest, not in self-interest, and it requires action on a global scale. For this to succeed, restoring the earth needs to become a central aim of human civilisation.

We will keep you updated on the situation with our camps through Social Media. We are now talking to the two camps already affected what we, as a global community, can best do to help them and we’ll soon let you know soon.