Adapting to Wildfires on the Urban Edge in Southern California

Adapting to Wildfires on the Urban Edge in Southern California

Jon E. Keeley, Ph.D., Adjunct Professor, UCLA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Resource Ecologist, USGS Western Ecological Research Center

Southern California has experienced nine megafires over 100,000 acres in size since the late 1880s and over half of them have occurred in the last 6 years. This recent fire activity has raised concerns about how to reduce fire hazard to a growing population living in or near hazardous areas, how to control the spiraling costs of wildfire and yet still maintain natural ecosystems. While local flora and fauna are adapted to tolerating occasional fires, these natural ecosystems cannot be sustained with the current frequency and intensity of fire activity. Severe droughts are a factor in this recent fire activity and are also connected to climate change and other global changes faced by the region.


Dr. Keeley will discuss ways in which communities must learn to adapt to these conditions to avoid more human, economic and ecological cost. He will explain why the cities in the Southern California’s mega-region can no longer depend exclusively on local, state and federal fire fighting agencies to minimize damages from wildfires. Local involvement in reducing exposure to wildland fires will be necessary to avoid costs to the taxpayer, costs of massive evacuations, losses to home and business and the wildland ecosystems. Human adaptation to this fire prone environment will only happen with better coordination between decision makers at the local, state and federal levels.


Speaker Biography


Dr. Keeley is an Adjunct Full Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UCLA, a research ecologist with the USGS, and a research associate of the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. His research has focused on ecological impacts of wildfires in wildlands near urban areas, and the impact of historical changes in fire regimes on invasive non-native plants. In 1997-98 he served 1 year in Washington, D.C. as director of the ecology program for the National Science Foundation. Prior to this he was professor of biology at Occidental College for 20 years. He has over 300 publications in national and international scientific journals and books. His research has focused on ecological impacts of wildfires in wildlands near urban areas, and the impact of historical changes in fire regimes on invasive non-native plants. He has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, is a Fellow of the Southern California Academy of Sciences and an Honorary Lifetime Member of the California Botanical Society. He has served on the LA County Regional Planning Review Board and the State Natural Communities Conservation Program (NCCP) Scientific Board.