What’s the Real Story on Finnish Forest Management?

Did you hear? California residents could solve their whole wildfire problem with rakes — at least, according to noted timber management and wildland firefighting expert Donald J. Trump.

While touring the site of Northern California’s Camp Fire over the weekend, he told reporters that Finland doesn’t have significant wildfires despite having considerable forested land because: “They spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don’t have any problem.”

Finland’s president Sauli Niinistö denied making comments to this effect, though he says the two leaders did briefly discuss forests in a meeting earlier this month. The Finnish president may have referenced “taking care of the forest,” he said, but Trump’s interpretation of his remarks was a creative embellishment.

Despite the “make America rake again” wags on Twitter — including Finns who took up the cause of roasting the president with relish – Trump’s actually not wrong here. Well, kind of.

He’s not wrong that Finland doesn’t experience extreme wildfires like those that have been devastating California. The country has even shown that its wildfire management is more effective than that of neighboring countries like Sweden — but President Trump is dead wrong on why.

Put your rakes away, because the real culprit here is still climate change.

Finland does use controlled burning to clear out undergrowth, a tactic with centuries of historical use that is also employed by indigenous people around the world – and one that Trump seems quite enamored with. But one of the reasons controlled burning is safe and effective in Finland is because of the climate, which stays cool and wet for a good chunk of the year.

California, on the other hand, is experiencing dryness so unprecedented in modern history that in some parts of the state, precipitation is being measured in negative increments. In these conditions, deliberately setting a fire would be incredibly foolhardy and dangerous — especially with the sharp, gusty winds that have been kicking up during California’s fire season, turning sparks into conflagrations.

The state’s own climate change assessment clearly indicates that wildfires are a growing threat, and the state has actually considered controlled burns as a risk mitigation option. They’d only be logistically possible during the cool and wet season, though — which is getting smaller and smaller every year.

California is also more heavily forested than Finland — and incidentally, many of those forests are on federal, not state, lands. More forest — and fewer lakes — makes the state more vulnerable to major fires, though severe fires like the recent Woolsey Fire in Southern California also spread through highly combustible chaparral, not the forest.

California has another problem: construction along the wildland-urban interface, which is a technical way of describing development at the place where the forest meets the streets.

Over 4.5 million homes are located in this high risk area, and when they burn, people tend to rebuild them rather than relocating. With many California cities expanding, authorities are facing tough decisions about where and when to allow people to build. High-risk development comes with increased insurance risks, too, which is why many insurance agencies — and Cal Fire — are taking a growing interest in construction practices in these areas.

The bottom line: Finland and California don’t just have different policy landscapes. They have different physical landscapes, and no amount of raking will change that.

Photo credit: Visit Lakeland/Flickr

75 comments

Marie W
Marie W14 days ago

TYFS

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Victoria P
Victoria P7 months ago

Petition signed with thanks ~♥~

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Lesa D
Past Member 7 months ago

who knew all we needed was to rake the floor...??? what a stable moron...

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Lesa D
Past Member 7 months ago

#82516 petition signed...

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Lesa D
Past Member 7 months ago

thank you s.e. ...

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Jan K
Jacob S7 months ago

thank you for sharing

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Gloria p
Gloria picchetti7 months ago

What an excellent article! I am sharing it. I donated to the the California Community Foundation to help with wildfire recovery. Their site is searchable.

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Shae L
Shae Lee7 months ago

Thanks for sharing!

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Anna R
Anna R7 months ago

Thank you

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silja salonen
silja salonen7 months ago

as a Finnish woman I find the fiskars rakes beneficial for all types of forest maintenance .. wink wink

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