Over 27 million trees have died throughout California over the past year, bringing the total number to “a staggering 129 million dead trees” on 8.9 million acres, according to the US Forest Service. This report was published in January 2018, months before the current 20 enormous wildfires began to devastate the state. The report warned that the trees, “continue to pose a hazard to people and critical infrastructure.” This warning was not heeded. And now the most disastrous and largest wildfire in state history has killed six firefighters.
California is home to more environmental wackos than any state or nation in the world. Because the state is run by one of them (Governor Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown) and because they have such a stranglehold on the politics of the state, California is more susceptible to wildfire danger than any of its neighboring Pacific Northwest states.
Even the extremely liberal New York Times reported on this seven months ago. “This week a group of scientists warned in the journal BioScience that the dead trees could produce wildfires on a scale and of an intensity that California has never seen… The authors of the study say the fire risk will ratchet up in the coming years, as the dead trees fall to the forest floor and form a tangled pile of timber resembling something like a giant bonfire.”
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When I was a volunteer firefighter many years ago, I attended a seminar on stock-selection software in Telluride, CO. As I usually do, I visited the fire station and chatted with the Chief. He told me that the firefighters lived in “constant fear of a wildfire that could demolish the entire town.” He was almost right. The nearby towns of Durango and Silverton were ravaged by wildfires in June, and Telluride has hosted thousands from those towns whose homes were destroyed.
Why was the Chief concerned? He told me the town was surrounded by forests which contained tens of thousands of dead trees (sound familiar?). Falling among those trees were dead branches that had fallen off live trees and tons of dry leaves. This created a very heavy “fire load” that would be much more dangerous than a healthy forest in case of a wildfire.
I told him that in Florida we regularly did “controlled burns” of our forests. Experienced firefighters would spray gasoline on the dead brush in a limited area, and light it up. Other firefighters would surround the burn area with trucks, hoses, and water to keep it from spreading. When this was done early enough, the live trees would survive, and the forest would be healthier as a result. If too much fire load accumulated over a long period of time, the fire would burn so hot that the live trees would be killed.
We also used bulldozers to create “fire breaks” at prescribed distances. In these breaks, nothing was allowed to grow except grass. Then if a part of the forest caught fire, the firebreak would keep it from “jumping” to another section of the forest.
The Chief told me they would love to do that kind of preventative firefighting. But what he called “the lunatic Left” thwarted their every effort to prevent unstoppable wildfires. The environmentalists insisted that if nature was left to itself, everything would be fine. But the same environmentalists insisted that every wildfire had to be fought vigorously, even if no structures were in danger because they couldn’t stand to see trees destroyed – even if it was nature in the form of lightning that started the fire.
Another area where environmentalists create an increased danger of catastrophic fires is to block any logging – even of dead trees – on federal lands. This has led to overly dense forests in which it is impossible for firefighters to operate. There’s just no room for their vehicles and equipment. Some forestry experts estimate that there are four times as many trees on federal lands as there would be in the natural order of things.
Pretend for a moment that there were no humans in California. There would be wildfires every year or two. There would be about one fourth as many trees. And the forests would be much healthier. Fewer trees would mean that the trees that remained would get more sunlight and more nutrients from the earth. Uncontrolled fires would burn off the fire load before it got too deep, and then they would burn themselves out.
So allowing natural fires to burn naturally would decrease the fire load, decreasing that chance of extremely hot fires that would destroy living trees. The trees that survived would be healthier because they wouldn’t need to compete with dense undergrowth for nutrients and space. And some trees, such as pines, will actually die out without fires. Their cones have to be exposed to high heat to melt their waxy seals, allowing them to reproduce. And, not incidentally, pine forests are home to many rare plants, such as the sandplain gerardia (an endangered species) that also need fire to reproduce.
I am an environmentalist because I want the best for the beautiful nature God has given us. But I’m not a crazed, unreasoning, activist environmentalist who is more interested in ideology than facts. I know that there is a way to accommodate both man and nature. We can live side by side, as God designed things to be.
How would that look regarding our subject today?
First, man would refrain from building structures too close to large forests. Yes, we would all like to have a forest in our backyard. Trees are beautiful. But at what cost? This is like the wealthy people who build huge homes right on the banks of rivers that they know flood every few decades. They don’t worry, however, because they know the rest of us will pay for them to rebuild through the National Flood Insurance Program. The foolish people who build in dangerous places would say, “I pay for my insurance.” But they don’t. It is heavily subsidized by the government – in other words, you and me.
In Verisk’s 2017 Wildfire Risk Analysis, 4.5 Million US homes were identified at high or extreme risk of wildfire. Almost half of those, 2 million were in the State of California. Note to foolish rich people: Don’t build your beautiful home in a high-risk area.
Second, and most important, natural wildfires would be allowed to burn themselves out. This is nature’s plan, and when we interfere with it, forests are ultimately destroyed, not saved. This is what is happening right now in California. Local, state, and federal fire officials have for decades been begging for the ability to protect both nature and people using good forest management techniques, including allowing most wildfires to burn. But the various governments are terrified of environmentalists labeling them as anti-nature.
Third, fight fires only when people and structures are at risk. If the people are safe, and there are just a few structures at risk, let them burn. Most people think that the real dangers of firefighting are with structure fires. From my experience, both as a volunteer and later as a professional firefighter, that is just not true. Every fire season firefighters die fighting wildfires. I don’t think anyone should have to die to save a house or building that someone was reckless enough to build in the middle of a forest.
I almost died in a forest fire in Florida. I was driving an old brush truck, and I was by myself because we were undermanned. I was careful not to drive into an area where the fire could get behind me. Unfortunately, the old truck’s axle broke, and I was stranded. As the fire started to encircle me, I fought to save the truck. (We were a small volunteer fire department, and trucks didn’t come easy.) Finally, I was forced to soak myself down with water and run to save my life. Rest in peace, loyal truck.
Fourth, in areas where ridiculous policies have created great danger over the last few decades, start deploying aggressive fire management. Due to the extremely heavy fire load in many states, it will be more dangerous for the firefighters to do the controlled burns than it should be. And because there are literally millions of dead trees all over the nation, it will be hard to cut fire breaks. But if we don’t want more catastrophic fires like the ones in California, it has to be done.
Fifth, since 90% of wildfires are caused by human, not natural causes, the penalties for starting a wildfire should be much more severe. For deliberate arson, the penalties should be very harsh to discourage other arsonists. If anyone dies in the fire, life in prison or the death penalty (depending on the state’s laws) should be on the table. Even accidental fires should carry some jail time. Spreading the news that a poorly cared-for campfire sent someone to jail would make other campers much more careful.
Finally, if the states can’t or won’t enact such legislation, the federal government should do so. I am not a fan of federal interference with the states. But in this case, there are several reasons why we should consider federal action:
- Fire doesn’t recognize state lines. Currently, the California wildfires have spread into Oregon. In the past, they have spread into Nevada and Arizona.
- California has declared a State of Emergency. That opens to doors to federal aid. But there is no such thing as “federal” aid. The federal government has no money but the money it takes from “We, the people.” It should be called “taxpayer aid.”
- Most of the lands where the wildfires burn have been taken from the states – so it should be responsible to fix the problems caused by its irresponsible rules and laws. But this time people should have a say in those laws.
Have you ever wondered why there is so much land held by the US government? The federal government “owns” 27% of the land in the US (640 Million acres). But 93% of all that land is located in 11 Western states. For instance, the feds have claimed 91.1% of all the land formerly owned by the State of Nevada. The average amount of land seized from these states is 45.2% of all state-owned lands.
What does this mini history lesson have to do with wildfires? Just look at where most wildfires take place. They are most common in states where the feds control most of the land. As I discovered in my research for this article, forestry experts believe that there is no way for the government to properly manage the hundreds of millions of acres of land they have extorted from the states. That is especially true if it continues to “manage” the lands in the manner the ecological activists demand. In addition, these same extremists have gotten control of key federal agencies that make decisions regarding federal lands, including the Bureau of Land Management.
In states where most land is privately managed, the problems we have discussed are largely non-existent. This is because landowners are not bureaucrats. They have a free enterprise profit motive to keep their land safe. So they use sensible land management techniques. Likewise, in the few places where the feds allow land to be leased for logging or grazing purposes, the contractors are far better stewards of the land than the feds could ever be. The federal government just controls too much land to even survey it, much less take proper care of it.
One last thought. We haven’t talked about money in this piece. Think about this. Every year wildfires burn up billions of dollars’ worth of timber that our country needs for its construction projects. The government only allows a tiny percentage of federal lands to be logged. In addition, because of politically-driven forestry management practices, feet of lumber burn up every year. In most places, the government won’t even allow lumberjacks to remove and use dead trees.
So we import. It probably won’t surprise you to find that we import billions of dollars’ worth of lumber from Canada. But we also import it, at great expense because of the distance, from Germany. And, believe it or not, with all the financial sanctions the US has on Russia, we buy huge amounts of timber from them.
So here’s an idea. We have more than enough timber in this country to supply all our own needs, and have a lot left over to export at a profit. Why don’t we elect Congressmen who understand what we’ve been discussing, ones who will stand up to the Leftist wackos? Properly managing federal lands (or giving it back to the states, as many states are demanding) will reduce wildfires and give us more timber. Producing our own lumber will make a huge dent in the trade imbalances. This will lower the threat of trade wars. And we won’t have to buy wood from Putin.
The Benefits of Fire (Fascinating Info in One Page)
US Forest Service Report on Record 129 Million Dead Trees in California
Millions of Dead Trees Blight California Landscapes
Jan. 2018: New York Times “100 Million Dead Trees Prompt Fears of Giant Wildfires”
Verisk 2017 Wildfire Risk Analysis
More Than Half the Land in Western States is Federally Owned. Now Some States Want it Back!
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author and are not not necessarily either shared or endorsed by iPatriot.com.