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Issues & Insights

Green Policies Turned California A Charred Black

I&I Editorial

More than half of California’s roughly 105 million acres are owned by the federal and state governments. It is on these sprawling parcels that the wildfires tend to rage before devouring private land, homes, and businesses.

Public lands “have proved far more vulnerable to forest fires than properties owned by private groups,” Hoover Institution scholar Richard Epstein wrote in California’s Forest Fire Tragedy. “Private lands are managed with the goals of conservation and production. The management of public lands has been buffeted by legislative schemes driven by strong ideological commitments.”

The loudest voices assign blame for the fires to man-made climate change. But the human activity primarily responsible for the destructive spread of wildfires is public policy favoring burned timber over harvested timber. While maybe well-intended, laws inspired by the 1970s environmentalist movement, which is determined to make sure saw blades and trees never meet, have stoked the furnaces.

Rep. Tom McClintock, one of the few Republicans remaining in California’s congressional delegation, explained during a House floor speech last fall that “excess timber comes out of the forest one way or the other. It is either carried out, or it burns out. But it comes out.”

When excess timber was harvested in another era, he added, “we had healthy, resilient forests and we had thriving prosperous communities.” Timber sales from federal lands, said McClintock, generated revenue for local California communities and created thousands of jobs.

Given the extensive fire coverage in the media, it would be easy to believe we’re living in unprecedented times. Yet the number of all U.S. wildfires has remained “roughly constant” since the 1970s, a 2015 Reason Foundation policy brief tells us. What has increased, and sharply every year over the past three decades, is the area burned by wildfires. The average size of each wildfire more than doubled over that period.

The report’s author, Julian Morris, says “climatic factors cannot explain the pattern of fires observed over the past century.” Then there has to be another cause. Though it’s politically incorrect to agree with President Trump, he wasn’t wrong when he tweeted about the “gross mismanagement of the forests” being a factor in the fires. 

Proper management of forests has to include tree-thinning, though not clear-cutting, and controlled-burns on public lands, as well as the removal of dead, diseased, and already-burned trees, which is oddly not allowed. Those 129 million dead trees in the state that can’t be hauled out are kindling to feed the next fires.

Of course forests aren’t the only acreage burning in California. Fires in Southern California roar through scrub brush, driven by hot Santa Ana winds, especially in areas where the brush has not been appropriately cleared. In many cases, brushy areas are scorched by fires that began in government-controlled forests.

“Wildfires have no boundaries,” Cal Fire Deputy Director Mike Mohler told PRI.

While state and national policymakers have been busy for decades searching out still another source of man-made pollution to eliminate, they have allowed a natural source to grow into a nearly uncontrollable monster. Maybe they’ve been distracted. As California and federal officials have taken “immense” steps “to stop, for example, tailpipe emissions,” says Epstein, both have been slow to rethink logging policy and other management strategies. The result has been a wave of wildfires that have produced far more pollution in California than automobile exhaust.

Policy changes are desperately needed, but as long as policymakers are able to get away with blaming the problem on climate change, and focus their thinking on what to do after lives and property have been destroyed, California will continue to be consumed by fire.

— Written by J. Frank Bullitt


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13 comments

  • As long as you don’t mind “natural”, natural forest fires should just be part of the regular order of life as well as entertaining

    • Garbage, The timber industry prefers to have a ready source of lumber to harvest. Clear-cutting drives them out of business. Silviculture requires extensive replanting and clearance of underbrush to allow trees to grows. A US Forestry Burn Area Emergency Report (BAER) focuses not only on replanting but preventing soil erosion, water runoff to prevent flooding and a litany of other benefits. Just another knee-jerk reaction minus the knee for the unwashed masses…

  • A logged forest doesn’t burn. Wood based building materials sequester carbon. A replanted forest sequesters carbon as it grows. Repeat in forty years. Win/win

  • Actually do something meaningful about Global Warning, then stop doing business with China. For very little cost goods can be produced without pollution, slavishly harsh labor practices, and corruption.

  • Remember when G W Bush cleared brush on his Texas ranch. The environmentalist went nuts about destroying the habitat of mice, rabbits..and other vermin. When the lumber industry legally harvested trees on public land, the environmentalist screamed about destroying the habitat of rare owls, only to discover that owls love living in Walmart signs. So, when overpopulated tree soaked forests are ablaze, these little mice, rabbits and owls die. Also, think of all of that CO2 that goes up in smoke. Environmentalist should be held economically responsible for their stupidity.

  • Unfortunately convincing people who have been brainwashed with green dont know anything about conservation.

  • Sometimes I read things like this grow furious at the misleading nature of them. Yes, there are 120+ million dead trees in California forest, but why? Not one word about that. Yes, environmentalist have successfully protected many acres of old growth forest and other lands that certain species require for survival, but how much and why? Not one word about 5% of the forest being Old Growth. What happened to the other 95%? Chop Chop Chop. Talk about forest management, but not one word as to how it is paid for. What has happedned to the forest service budget? How do they get funding? Not one word as to the cuts made by Republican administations. Not one word as to the the Forest Service needing to sell trees to fund themselves to save trees. Nuts. You conservatives are the masters of 1/2 truths, misleading info, and red herrings. Why don’t you just try the truth. Maybe it will set you free.

    • Springer,

      Exactly. So-called “public” lands are subject to political whims. These lands should be in the private hands of Americans, not in the hands of incompetent and uncaring bureaucrats.

    • National forests are not national parks!
      National forests are the nation’s wood supply. They are set aside to be managed and harvested. Quit conflating the two unrelated purposes.

  • Many of the west coast pine species need to be clear cut as they do not grow well in the shadow other trees.
    A 50 year cycle was the norm with 2% clear-cut every year.
    The regrowth provides far more habitat than the old forest and it makes the forest not all the same age, which helps limit disease and fire.
    Enviro-Nazis destroyed the timber industry with lies about endangered species that turned out to be false.
    Everyone wins when we work the forests, everyone loses the way we do it now.
    Log it or Burn it.

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