Forest fires in the United States have gone from bad to worse in the last decade, burning an estimated 7.6 million acres of land in 2022 and foreshadowing visions of ever-larger blazes to come as global temperatures rise. Meanwhile, cities scorched by the urban heat-island effect are looking for ways to expand their tree canopies and keep existing urban forests in good health, with health benefits for residents and carbon benefits for the environment.
Working at the intersection of these issues is Nicholas Pevzner, assistant professor of landscape architecture at the Weitzman School of Design.
This spring, Pevzner is leading a landscape architecture studio called The Fire Studio: Wildfire, Forests, Jobs, + Carbon, which is focused on forest management practices in the American West. He’s also finishing up research for an article in the Journal of Landscape Architecture about the past and future roles of designers in managing urban forests. And, working with a team of research assistants, he’s completing a greenhouse gas inventory of the Delaware River watershed, including the carbon contributions of forests.
“Ecosystems are socioecological systems,” he says. “Humans are part of ecosystems, and you really need to look at them always interacting—the biophysical always interacting with the social and built components.”
Designers are “only beginning to grapple with the spatial and land use challenges of fire risk and fire dynamics,” Pevzner says, “but smart new approaches to managing fire risk could unlock new approaches to reducing this climate threat for vulnerable communities, while simultaneously increasing forest resilience, keeping more carbon on the landscape, and creating lots of jobs in struggling rural communities.”
The studio follows on a previous course Pevzner led as part of the Green New Deal SuperStudio in 2021. This year’s studio, focused on the areas around Tahoe National Forest and Plumas National Forest in Northern California, explores the roles industry, the U.S. Forest Service, and communities can play in managing forests for greater fire resilience and protecting communities for wildlife and people.
In his studio, students take a systems approach to the problem, studying the logistics and spatial needs of emergent engineered wood products, biomass, and biochar industries with the goal of understanding how a range of social, economic, and environmental functions could complement each other.
In February, the group visited forest restoration sites, sawmills and biomass utilization campuses in Northern California. They met with fire experts and forest managers to learn about “the labor and the physical transformation that these landscapes need to undergo to prepare for a healthy fire regime,” Pevzner says. For their final projects, they’re producing site analyses and designs that explore “multifunctional arrangements” for communities and industries that connect forest-management practices, carbon reduction, economic incentives and jobs.
This story is by Jared Brey. Read more at Weitzman News.