Or so they say!
The wildfires in California—as well as those in Oregon and Washington—have taken a terrible toll in both lives and property.
Devastating California wildfires have become an annual catastrophe. And just as often, state officials, megaphoned by the media and environmentalists, identify climate change as the culprit.
Others, including President Donald Trump, have suggested that a decades-long abandonment of effective forest management has also played a major role—perhaps THE major role.
State officials, especially California Governor Gavin Newsom, and environmentalists have largely dismissed or ignored such allegations—until now.
Even the media, while asserting that climate change is the driving force behind the number and intensity of the wildfires, now concede that poor forest management may play a role.
Take, for example, this recent National Public Radio report: “To be clear, climate change certainly plays a central role in these fires’ alarming scale and severity, but it’s not the only reason we’re seeing such deadly and destructive blazes, especially in the iconic—and typically wet—woods of the Pacific Northwest.”
The report continues: “California and Oregon in particular are far behind stated goals of treating millions of acres of forests and wild lands through restoration projects, selective thinning of trees and brush and prescribed burning.” [See other reports here and here.]
For decades the U.S. Forest Service allowed logging companies to enter forests and clear out dead, stressed and diseased trees and underbrush—all of which are kindling for wildfires.
Between 1960 and 1990 up to 10 billion board feet of timber was removed annually from national forests, according to the Congressional Research Service. But a steady decline led to less than 3 billion board feet harvested annually since 2003, leaving forests filled with dead and diseased trees.
As the Forest Service reported in December 2017, “the total number of trees that have died due to drought and bark beetles reached an historic 129 million on 8.9 million acres. The dead trees continue to pose a hazard to people and critical infrastructure ...”
It didn’t used to be that way.
Rep. Tom McClintock, a California Republican, has repeatedly highlighted how forests used to be managed: “The sale of excess timber ... provided a steady stream of revenue to the treasury and thousands of jobs to support local families. We could match and maintain tree density to the ability of the land to support it.”
But he adds, “Forty-five years ago, we began imposing laws that have made the management of our forests all but impossible.”
For example, the National Forest Management Act of 1976 was passed to protect national forests from excessive logging. It also required forest planning based on a consensus of groups, including environmental organizations that tended to oppose the logging.
Elections have consequences and so do policies. Environmentalists can’t change the weather, but they can embrace better forest management.