Preparing for Fires

June 16, 2021
a measuring device stands on a hill amongst charred trees

The following is an excerpt from a piece by Hazel Kelly on how CSU campuses are leading efforts in wildfire research, management, and workforce preparation.

In January 2021, eight CSU campuses came together virtually to host the first-ever CSU wildfire briefing, “Addressing Wildfire and Smoke Impacts in California." Chico State, Humboldt State, Cal State LA, San Diego State, San José State, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, CSU San Marcos and Sonoma State each presented a snapshot of their areas of research and academic preparation, followed by a question-and-answer session to discuss some of the state's most pressing wildfire issues.

“Not only does the CSU have the capacity, but we have the potential to directly address the critical questions in fire science research, education and outreach in the state today," said San José State University Provost Vincent Del Casino, Ph.D., who moderated the January briefing. “Simply put, we can change the landscapes of California, and the world, for the better."

From Sonoma State, Lisa Patrick Bentley, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, presented her research on conducting more accurate forest measurements.

The forest understory grows dense with flammable dead branches and brush—known as “fuel load." The greater the fuel load, the greater potential for a more severe wildfire, where more carbon can be released into the atmosphere. Dr. Bentley leads an interdisciplinary team focused on quantifying above-ground carbon stocks and fire fuel loads.

​“Measuring precise dimensions of trees is key to determining how much climate-altering carbon is stored," Dr. Bentley said. “Fuel loads are difficult to measure, but they need to be accurately quantified to mitigate the severity of wildfires." Her team uses terrestrial laser-scanning technology and multispectral sensors on drones to assemble detailed 3D data of the forest's structure. “Graduate student-led research is finding that our methodology can increase the accuracy and cost-effectiveness of forest management."​