California is in the midst of battling some of the worst wildfires in the state’s history, which have resulted in the wholesale decimation of forests, extensive destruction of property, and massive disruption of people’s lives.
Governor Jerry Brown recently characterized the dire situation by stating that these types of fires “could happen every year or every few years” and that Californians are simply “facing a new reality.”
A new reality? Hardly comforting words from the Golden State’s chronic political presence.
Certainly the “new reality” warrants a deeper investigation into what factors have been contributing to the escalation and what steps could be taken to mitigate and/or prevent future catastrophic events.
The fact of the matter is there has been a decided increase in unusually devastating fires over the last few decades. The wildfires that are occurring today are twice as large as they were forty years ago, and the fires themselves are much bigger, significantly more powerful, and consequently more dangerous.
The left claims that the mega fires are happening as a result of global warming. However, according to a recent Reason Foundation study, changes in climate cannot adequately account for the “pattern of fires observed over the past century.”
The United States Forest Service (USFS) is the agency responsible for managing the nation’s wilderness areas, which constitute almost two-thirds of U.S. forests. The USFS once had a great deal of success in mitigating the risk of major fires in the early part of the last century. Over the past few decades, though, forest management policy has become overly centralized and increasingly bureaucratic, while also presenting a growing detriment to public safety.
During the 1970s, after legislation was passed that claimed to protect the ecosystem, the USFS altered its policies in a manner that would have extremely serious consequences for those parts of the country that are concerned about wildfire hazards, particularly the Western part of the nation.
Decades of politicians employing central planning while pandering to environmentalist groups have resulted in overgrowth in the nation’s forests. Methods that had worked to lower fire danger were abandoned, and the USFS spent appreciably more money for significantly fewer results as it used its resources for questionable environmental practices.
Excess fuel in the form of overly dense wilderness areas became a mega fire hazard that created a danger to the public and to regional economies. Additionally, severe limitations on the harvesting of timber on federal land created dangerous conditions in forests that led directly to the massive fires of late. If the logging industry had been permitted to clear more wilderness areas, the fire threat would have been dramatically reduced.
The public needs to be alerted to the fact that when forests are too dense they become susceptible to the kind of explosive infernos that actually end up harming the ecosystem, killing wildlife and destroying habitats. Logging, controlled burns, and natural low-intensity wildfires not only assist in making mega fires less likely but contribute to the creation of healthier ecosystems as well.
Removing the wood fuels in naturally dry forests helps to greatly reduce the probability of high intensity fires while assisting the environment. It is imperative that the excess growth caused by decades of bad policy be removed. Dry forests, which were historically cleared by frequent, low-intensity fires, may need the careful implementation of controlled burns to protect the life and property of adjacent communities.
Republican leaders in Congress, who have been working along with the Trump administration, are attempting to reform the legal landscape that is plaguing America’s national forests. The congressional members are seeking to increase logging in order to thin out the overly dense and dangerous forest conditions that now exist.
In November the House passed legislation called the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017 in order to allow salvage logging and other forms of tree cutting on federal properties.
House Speaker Paul Ryan indicated that the bill was necessary to protect the nation’s federal forests “from the kind of devastation that California experienced.”
The bill would remove draconian environmental restrictions that have dramatically curtailed timber harvests on federal lands. The legislation is currently awaiting action in the Senate.