How Environmentalists fanned California fires

Fire! It’s one of the most dreaded words in drought-stricken, wind-prone California.Eleven days ago, this word echoed through the small Bible study that had gathered at my home. That Sunday morning, the Santa Ana winds had arrived, as predicted. As night fell, the force of these winds was unusually strong and black smoke rose from a nearby hill.

Phone calls were placed to neighbors whose homes were located high enough to pinpoint the location of the unwelcome intruder.

In the days that followed, more than 500,000 acres would burn – an area more than twice the size of New York City. Three hundred thousand people would flee their homes with little more than the clothes on their backs. Some 3,000 structures would burn to the ground. Seven people would die, and several hundred would be injured. Lives would be abruptly altered, many changed forever.

With hundreds of hours of broadcast coverage devoted to this tragedy, I was struck by the absence of any meaningful information that we could use to prevent tragedies like these from recurring.

The voice of Dr. Thomas Bonnicksen of the Temperate Forest Foundation was an exception. Dr. Bonnicksen, startled me when he said, “Smokey Bear, that American forest icon who tells us, ‘Only you can prevent forest fires,’ is a liar!”

Bonnicksen was right! I had viewed Smokey’s friendly countenance and read that message so many times that I had unwillingly become indoctrinated!

It is true that some fires are caused by carelessness, some by arson, but most forest fires are caused by Mother Nature. Try as we might, we cannot prevent these fires, but we can minimize the damage. Fire! It’s one of the most dreaded words in drought-stricken, wind-prone California.Eleven days ago, this word echoed through the small Bible study that had gathered at my home. That Sunday morning, the Santa Ana winds had arrived, as predicted. As night fell, the force of these winds was unusually strong and black smoke rose from a nearby hill.

Phone calls were placed to neighbors whose homes were located high enough to pinpoint the location of the unwelcome intruder.

In the days that followed, more than 500,000 acres would burn – an area more than twice the size of New York City. Three hundred thousand people would flee their homes with little more than the clothes on their backs. Some 3,000 structures would burn to the ground. Seven people would die, and several hundred would be injured. Lives would be abruptly altered, many changed forever.

With hundreds of hours of broadcast coverage devoted to this tragedy, I was struck by the absence of any meaningful information that we could use to prevent tragedies like these from recurring.

The voice of Dr. Thomas Bonnicksen of the Temperate Forest Foundation was an exception. Dr. Bonnicksen, startled me when he said, “Smokey Bear, that American forest icon who tells us, ‘Only you can prevent forest fires,’ is a liar!”

Bonnicksen was right! I had viewed Smokey’s friendly countenance and read that message so many times that I had unwillingly become indoctrinated!
Another myth that has been sold to the American people is that trees are sacred and must be protected by the government from evil humans at all cost.

There was a time when loggers used cut-and-run tactics, but not in our lifetime or our fathers’ or our grandfathers’ lifetime.

Trees are a valuable crop. While wilderness areas were created to preserve certain areas in their “natural state” and national parks for public enjoyment, our national forests were created to insure a sustainable supply of timber. Yes, timber!

All that has changed. In the 1960s, radical environmental groups began lobbying to strip loggers from the national forests and to confine the public to smaller and smaller areas in our national parks. Meanwhile, these same groups lobbied to have the federal government take more and more private land into these systems.

By the year 2000, the National Forest System covered 192 million acres, or about 27 percent of the nation’s forested area, but provided less that 5 percent of the nation’s timber production. For most of the 20th century, the federal government focused on preventing all fires within these forests.

Today, most Americans live in urban areas and have little understanding of how trees grow, mature and die. We easily fall prey to some of the myths spread by environmental groups that believe humans can’t be trusted to manage natural resources. While all of us enjoy seeing the giant redwoods and visiting our national parks, and many enjoy hiking in national forests, we must understand that original forests that existed at the time the Pilgrims arrived do not exist.

The term old-growth forest is widely misunderstood. The average life of a forest is 200-400 years, and if we don’t allow our forests to be cut or thinned, nature will do it for us.

Presently, the federal government controls over one-third of our land. This is far too much!

The absence of logging and the emphasis on fire suppression in these national forests have produced diseased and dying forests. The gentle fires of the past have turned into to monster fires like the ones we just experienced in California that destroy homes and critical habitat and cost billions.

The nation’s privately held forests stand in stark contrast. Most are well-managed and thriving. Some, like the ones managed by International Paper Company, welcome hunters, hikers and campers. The fees collected help keep these forests healthy and produce profit for shareholders.

When you see the results of the carnage in my state, it pulls at your heartstrings. Many of you were motivated to donate to relief agencies. That is all well and good, but it will not prevent this kind of tragedy from being repeated.

While these heart-wrenching pictures are still etched in your consciousness, go to the phone and put your elected representatives on notice that you want real accountability for the nation’s forests. The ones that are not well managed should be returned to private hands.

6 thoughts on “How Environmentalists fanned California fires

  1. This is a great article, and I’m glad someone who is a clear thinker finally decided to speak out about this. And since I am new to your blog, I will definitely be coming back 🙂

    Like

  2. It is my undersstanding that when the American Indians managed the forest they set fire to the underbrush to prevent fires. It seems to me to be the proper way to manage it.

    Glenn C. Patterson

    Like

  3. I agree with your column and really liked the last statement endorsing the return of natural resource ownership and management to private enterprise.

    Every example of successful, cost effective natural resource management has been completed by private enterprise, and usually provides multiple use benefits. In my experience that includes livestock grazing on rangelands, logging, hunting, fishing, and other productive uses of renewable natural resources.

    All of the failures of resource management that I know of are either caused by private enterprise exploitation of the resources or are failures caused by the regulations of government agencies.

    Both exploitation of the resources for short-term gain and agency rules that prevent resource management that is science based and business-like are going to cause problems and cost money.

    In other words, communities prosper when the use of natural resources is based on private enterprise for profit by people who are stewards of the resources. That prosperity does not depend on land ownership, since land ownership may very well be a business enterprise that is separate from livestock production, logging, mining, etc. However our prosperity does depend on rational (not regulatory) decisions and on the rights of private property ownership being protected.

    Floyd Rathbun
    Wildlife Biologist
    Range Management Consultant
    Fallon, Nevada

    Like

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