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Conservation group seeks to help prevent wildfires

Posted at 8:48 AM, Apr 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-22 10:48:10-04

LITTLE ORLEANS, MD — More conservation groups are working to drastically reduce the number of fires and lessen the devastation they cause as the country comes off a record-breaking year for wildfires.

Some 59,000 wildfires broke out in the United States last year and one environmental group is trying to help land withstand the effects of climate change.

The flames burning in Little Orleans, Maryland are controlled; for nearly ten years the forest lines are where Natasha Whetzel of The Nature Conservancy is in command.

"I've probably been on...definitely 200 burns and I'm loving every minute of it,” said Whetzel who oversees controlled burns for one of the largest environmental organizations in the world.

Following months of planning and closely monitoring weather conditions, Whetzel and her team were recently singeing roughly 20 acres -- work she says that's more critical than ever.

"We know with climate change, conditions are going to change, species are going to migrate, and we need to ensure that we have healthy and resilient forests,” Whetzel observed.

The burns also help prevent wildfires by treating the land before conditions are too dry.

The National Interagency Fire Center reports nearly 59,000 wildfires burned through more than 10 million acres across the country last year marking a significant uptick from 2019.

One of the differences between wildfires and these controlled burns is the actual intensity of the fires themselves. Wildfires can get so hot that they kill everything -- including fire-adapted plant species while controlled burns do the opposite.

Dr. Deborah Landau, an ecologist with The Nature Conservancy, says controlled burns are restoring plant species that have been dormant for, in some cases, centuries.

"Without fire, we're going to lose a lot of these plants that have evolved with fire and require fire in order to regenerate,” Landau explained.

Whetzel says for her group, it's about stepping in where nature otherwise wouldn't -- conserving and protecting not only forest life but potentially human life, as well.

The Nature Conservancy is working with both government and private groups to treat land in 72 different countries. So far, the group has worked to protect more than 125 million acres of land.