October Work Week: Fire Mitigation/Firewood Production

In addition to the Work Week in May, we will have a second Work Week from October 5-13, 2019. We are looking for volunteers to help us with an exciting new approach that integrates fire control with forest health and the production of firewood as a low-carbon energy source.

Come join us this fall for work practice, Sangha camaraderie, and delicious meals!


Fire Mitigation

Together, we will continue the fire mitigation efforts in our 240 acres of piñon-juniper forest that is hosting our campus. Fire is the biggest threat to the survival of CMZC’s physical facilities. The remedy is to remove tree limbs up to 4 feet from the ground and to reduce the canopy cover to 40-60% in vulnerable areas. In other words, cutting away dead branches and understory (so-called ladder fuels) and, in strategically important places, taking out approximately every fourth tree. Limbing prevents ground fires to climb into the crown, and a wider stance prevents crown fires from turning into catastrophic firestorms.

4 acres between the main road and the CMZC buildings treated for fuel reduction in November 2018 to reduce the risk for the campus from a potential fire running uphill. A similar area will be targeted for the 2019 Fall Work Week.


Forest Health

This may sound violent and invasive. A more and more widely accepted concept, however, is that our forest is heavily overgrown from suppressing fire in this landscape for more than 100 years. What we might think of as natural is actually co-created through human presence and safety needs. Fire used to be an active ingredient in this landscape. Now it’s an ever dormant possibility that becomes more destructive with growing vegetation density. Cutting lower branches and removing some of the trees is equivalent to “playing fire” in a controlled manner.

It actually promotes forest health. In other words, our wood burning stoves, in effect, are an artificial replacement of the fire that should be part of a self-organizing desert landscape. To mimic the rejuvenating effect of fire on the ground, we would need to also do controlled burns. This is a common stewardship practice in national parks and forests and something our local fire and forest health advisor strongly recommends. Maybe in the future, we might experiment with it. In areas where we have already reduced vegetation density, natural grasses and bushes are coming back, increasing species variety in the forest. Controlled burns would facilitate this process even more.


Low-Carbon Firewood 

An important benefit is that we will be producing our own firewood on an ongoing basis. Locally harvested firewood is a close to carbon-neutral energy source. This is especially true if the firewood would otherwise be left to rot (slowly releasing carbon into the atmosphere) or be burned (either in a catastrophic forest fire or in a burn pit).

In accord with our Zero Carbon Campus vision, we want to make photovoltaic solar our main source of energy. However, the Main House, a late 70s Earthship experiment with stone walls on the south side, and the Log House are so poorly insulated that at this point it would be unwise to completely switch them over to solar electric. Therefore, we were advised to keep our four wood stoves in those buildings. This also maintains an electricity-independent backup heat source in our main community building in the event the grid were to go down for an extended period of time.


A Community Effort

Last year, we treated 4 acres (see arial photo above) and produced 7 cords of firewood. This nearly covers our annual demand. With the knowledge of this prototype project under our belt, we now want to establish an annual fire mitigation event with the help of Sangha members and neighbors.

Fire knows no property boundaries. CMZC has been cooperating with the neighboring spiritual centers and has formed a formal Firewise Community based on national guidelines. It’s been a rewarding process, strengthening cooperation around fire control measures in our immediate neighborhood and making us eligible for potential grants. If our idea gets adopted by our neighbors as well – not all of them need firewood for heating –, we will be safer from catastrophic fires and, for years if not decades to come, have an additional energy source that is sustainable and climate-friendly.