The tragic fires in Northern California have provoked predictable responses from the usual suspects.
To President Trump, the fires were the inevitable consequence of poor forest management practices by the state of California. To Trump’s opponents, the fires were the result of the theoretical effect humankind is exerting on the Earth’s climate that we commonly refer to as “global warming,” or the result of incompetent federal land management, or perhaps both.
It should come as absolutely no surprise that the president came out swinging. “There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” Trump tweeted on Nov. 10.
There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 10, 2018
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio fired back: “The reason these wildfires have worsened is because of climate change and a historic drought.”
Brian Rice, president of the California Professional Firefighters union, complained that most of the state’s forests are managed by the federal government. “The president of the United States is ignorant of the process of forest management and wildfires,” Rice told NBC News.
Another day, another descent into partisan rancor. Ho-hum.
One cannot help but wonder what John Muir—the legendary naturalist who founded the Sierra Club and did so much to spur the conservation movement in the United States—would think of the way his pioneering work has evolved in modern times.
He would probably be appalled. To Muir, progress had its place in an evolving world. He simply chose to restrain progress when it threatened to distort or destroy remarkable natural wonders. Or, put in terms of one signature issue that would define how Muir approached the intersection of modern civilization and the environment—he wasn’t opposed to sheep, he just wanted them in their proper place.
Muir was a lone Scotsman trying to ensure that the grandeur of amazing natural vistas remained in place for future generations to enjoy. He was no zealot. He understood people needed to harvest natural resources in order to survive. He knew, for example, that raising sheep provided a variety of products for people to use and eat, and that sheep needed places to graze. He only objected to sheep grazing in some remarkable places he thought should be preserved in their natural state.
He engaged in a fierce battle with Gifford Pinchot, the first head of the U.S. Forest Service, in the late 19th century to protect what Muir deemed as sensitive areas from sheep farming, while accepting that sheep had their place in agriculture. Eventually, they figured it out, not to either’s complete satisfaction I suspect, but to the ultimate betterment of the nation.
It would appear that we’ve passed the point where finding such middle ground is possible in the environmental realm and in so many other areas of contention. I can’t imagine that Muir would approve.
In fact, regardless that he expressed his opinion in classically inelegant Trumpian terms, the president is correct in at least this: The state of California has been doing an awful job of managing its forests.
The degree to which that mismanagement contributed to this latest round of wildfires may be called into question, but the fact of the state’s mismanagement itself is beyond doubt.
The non-partisan California Legislative Analyst’s Office released a report entitled “Improving California’s Forest and Watershed Management” in April of this year. In a related fact sheet, they recognized that “[m]ost of the forests across the state are in an unhealthy condition.” They further stated that overgrown, unhealthy forests resulted in “increased risk of severe forest fires” and recommended actions to thin California’s many overgrown, unhealthy forests that have developed in the name of environmental puritanism.
And no, this sad situation is not the federal government’s fault. While the feds own the land on which the wildfires occurred, the Bureau of Land Management delegated its authority to manage that land—and most of the rest of the federally owned forests in California—to the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) as part of that agency’s State Responsibility Area (SRA) a long time ago.
The fire that consumed Paradise, California, occurred in a part of Northern California within the state’s SRA, as is most of the state outside of the deserts in Southern California. Some say these fires started in the high chaparral, a bush-like vegetation that is unrelated to forestry management. Perhaps that is the case.
Whatever the facts, no one can question that the fires started in a part of the state for which California itself is wholly responsible for fire protection and that California’s irresponsible forest-management practices are sure to lead to more fires in the future. It’s just a matter of time.
Richard Trzupek is a chemist and environmental consultant as well as an analyst at The Heartland Institute. He is also the author of “Regulators Gone Wild: How the EPA Is Ruining American Industry.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.