Flexible Grounds: Multifunctional Forest Infrastructure System
Authors: Bingjian Liu, Yiru (Mila) Wang
Institution: The University of Pennsylvania
Instructor: Nicholas Pevzner
Studio: Green New Fire Landscapes: A Green New Deal for Forests; Graduate Landscape Architecture; Spring 2021
Partner: Stephanie Carlisle (Carbon Leadership Forum), Studio Advisor
Throughout the western US, including Washington State, forest health has been in decline for several decades. Decades of fire suppression and past management practices have put these forests at higher risk of damage by disease, insects, and wildfire and reduced ecosystem resilience in the face of climate change.
Traditionally, fire management, forest thinning, and restoration work each had a different focus, with independent agendas and equipment. This project proposes a multifunctional system of forest infrastructure that integrates all three, and that is proactive to different forest management programs as well as educational needs. Taking Leavenworth, WA as a pilot site, it imagines a 3-level management system that caters to different user groups. By analyzing and incorporating the Potential Operation Delineation (POD)/Potential Control Line (PCL) fire management method, a network of multifunctional camps and trails are identified. Starting from the urban area, a Tier 1 Community Hub provides permanent facilities that support management of the wildland-urban interface (WUI), equipment storage, as well as community education. Tier 2 PCL Stations and infrastructures located on high-priority control lines, will serve as the base camp for Tier 3 POD Camps / Multifunctional Trails, which offer temporary operation zones as needed. Determined by specific needs during emergency and non-emergency periods, all camps have the capability to adapt and respond to wildfire, restoration, prescribed burning, and recreation programs.
All forest management work will follow a 15-year rotation, while recreation/education programs are scheduled to ensure maximum opportunity for public engagement.
Wildfires are not a new threat, but on a warmer and drier planet, they are growing in severity and frequency. Firefighters are having to learn new tactics to combat increasingly intense and fast-moving wildfires. Fire seasons, which have historically been limited to the summer months, are starting to become year-round. For more and more communities, megafires represent an immediate climate threat. Fire management is also intimately tied to carbon emissions. As forests are recognized not only for their ecological and cultural value but for their importance as major carbon sinks, protecting and enhancing these forest carbon sinks has become an essential piece of the strategy for mitigating climate change. As forests burn or die, they emit their stored carbon back into the atmosphere. Changing fire behavior is already changing some forests from net carbon sinks, into net sources of carbon emissions. Reducing wildfire risk is a climate strategy. Getting back to a healthy fire ecology sounds simple, but it is in fact extraordinarily difficult to counteract more than a hundred years of fire suppression, to reduce fuels and get forests to a place where they can be safely burned again, in line with their fire ecology. A Green New Deal for forests would unleash government resources to overcome this fuels reduction backlog, would do so according to the ecologically sound tenets of Climate-Smart Forestry principles, and create millions of jobs along the way. It would foreground rural labor, and re-invigorate rural economies that rely on forests to generate economic activity, by developing markets for sustainable wood products that are non-extractive and carbon-negative. It would advance climate science, including forest carbon models that better account for carbon in trees and soil. And it would prioritize local community and Indigenous concerns, including supporting Tribal forestry enterprises through cooperative management initiatives that take a more ecologically responsible approach to forestry and fire management. This studio posits a number of landscape strategies towards a Green New Deal for forest management. Building on the legacy of the CCC of the 1930s, these strategies would deploy funding, equipment, and labor; they would put millions of people to work sensitively reducing fuel buildups and protecting forests against future climate threats; would get those forests ready to once again receive low-intensity prescribed fire (as Indigenous land managers have long advocated); and would keep more carbon stored both on the landscape and in long-lived forest products, while providing economic and cultural benefits to frontline communities.