As California wildfires rage, politicians, timber companies and environmentalists are debating whether to thin overly dense forest lands that fuel the state's deadly infernos.
About one-third of California is covered by forests, most of it owned by the U.S. government. Last year was the most destructive and deadly wildfire season in the state's history. And 2018 through July is one-third higher in acreage burned than a year ago, according to Cal Fire.
Some believe the state's timber industry could be part of the solution by selectively thinning forests of trees. Timber harvesting has fallen sharply in California since the 1990s.
Despite opposition from some environmental groups, there's talk of the need to remove more barriers to logging given that wildfires have become bigger, deadlier and faster moving. California's timber laws are considered the most stringent in the nation.
"You've got a lot of fuel, you've got dead and dying trees, and a lot of hot weather — and it's a recipe for disaster," said Assemblyman Jim Wood of Healdsburg in Sonoma County, a member of the Senate and Assembly conference committee on wildfire preparedness and response. He represents a district with forested areas where October's wine country firestorms ripped through neighborhoods and destroyed thousands of homes and claimed 31 lives.
The U.S. Forest Service estimates that California has 129 million dead trees, most in the central and southern Sierras. Insects and drought are to blame for the high numbers.
California requires investor-owned utilities to buy biomass power from dead trees in high-hazard forested zones.
"I don't think we're ever going to completely prevent forest fires, but I think we can mitigate the damage that they cause," said Wood. "It's a strategy and it will take resources. As a state, we haven't committed as much to that, and that's part of the reason we find ourselves where we are."