California Wildfire Devastation Was Entirely Preventable Through Proper Land Management

California Wildfire Devastation Was Entirely Preventable Through Proper Land Management

The apocalyptic wildfires wreaking havoc across California on an annual basis are entirely preventable.
Tristan Justice
By

President Joe Biden declared the Caldor Fire threatening communities at Lake Tahoe, California an emergency Wednesday night to dispatch federal resources to the relief effort.

That blaze, only 25 percent contained as of this writing, has already burned more than 200,000 acres with roughly 32,300 structures in the path of destruction, according to a local California news outlet.

Meanwhile, the Dixie Fire 120 miles north of the area scorched half of Lassen Volcanic National Park and remains only 52 percent contained. Billed as one of the largest in modern California history, the inferno has already engulfed 1,300 structures and continues to spread, presenting a nightmare to the 12,000 people who live within a five-mile radius, as calculated by The New York Times.

The pair of mega wildfires mark another tragic summer on the heels of a record-setting season last year, in which more than 10 million acres burned in the highest yearly total since modern-day tracking began in 1983. It’s not just that 10 million acres burned, but also that many acres burned as a consequence of high-intensity fires. The latter claimed more than 17,500 structures with damages totaling $16.5 billion, according to the Yale Center for Environmental Communication. Last year’s fires ranked the third costliest on record, behind 2017 at $24 billion and 2018 at $22 billion.

None of this had to happen. The apocalyptic carnage across California each year is entirely preventable. While Democrats perpetuate the manufactured narrative by legacy media that climate change is the sole culprit for this charred devastation, western states are burning primarily as a consequence of bad land management.

A quick examination of the map for nearly every major forest fire to make national headlines will reveal the deadly blazes either start or grow on federally mismanaged land.

“I don’t think you can call it a coincidence,” said Jonathan Wood, the vice president of policy and law at the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), adding that two-thirds of fires start on federal property. “If it were one, maybe it would be a coincidence, but when you’ve got a series, you’ve got a trend.”

Wood told The Federalist the outbreak of current forest fires was entirely predictable, raising alarm in a report published in April that the U.S. Forest Service confronted a backlog of 63 million acres with a “high risk or very high risk of wildfire” and another 80 million acres in need of restoration.

The build-up of fuel to follow 100 years of fire suppression has led to the creation of massive tinder boxes ripe to go up in the conflagrations seen today. According to ProPublica, between 4 and 12 million acres burned in prehistoric California every year. Between 1989 and 1998, however, state bureaucrats only burned an average of 30,000 acres a year. That number fell to 13,000 acres between 1999 and 2017.

Yet the Forest Service remains behind, now devoting resources to immediate crises presented by the fires of today as opposed to preventing the fires of tomorrow with thinning and prescribed burns. That includes selective forest logging and low-intensity fires to reduce excess wood fuel. According to Wood’s report, co-authored with PERC Research Fellow Holly Fretwell, the Forest Service only has plans for fuel reduction projects dealing with 1.4 million acres per year.

“At that pace, it would take decades to treat the areas at risk of catastrophic fire,” they wrote.

In his interview with The Federalist, Wood agreed climate change was in part to blame for the accelerating growth of wildfires, but emphasized proper land management that addressed fuel reduction was the “only realistic way” to deal with what’s become routine crises. Several studies have also discounted the importance of climate change in the intensity of wildfires gripping western states.

In one paper cited by Wood and Fretwell, a team of researchers who examined four factors in wildfire severity found live fuel “was the most important” in contributing to fire growth, with 53 percent of relative influence as opposed to climate change at 14 percent. Fire weather was rated with a 23 percent average relative influence and topography with 10 percent.

Another study authored by a team of scientists from the Conservation Biology Institute, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the University of California Los Angeles concluded human presence diminished the importance of climate in the growth of wildfires.

“In regions where human presence is more important, the importance of climate is lower on average,” they wrote. “This suggests that, not only can humans influence fire regimes, as has been documented, but their presence can actually override, or swamp out, the effect of climate.”

Michael Shellenberger, the president of Environmental Progress and author of “Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All,” called this year’s megawildfires burning California “100 percent” preventable if adequate prescribed burns and trimming around powerlines had been conducted by government land managers.

Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom however, who faces a recall election in less than two weeks, cut the state’s budget for wildfire prevention and resource management from $355 million in 2019 to $203 million last year, a more than 40 percent decrease.

“Everybody knew we were going to have them,” Shellenberger told The Federalist of this year’s fires. He went on to place greater blame on negligent land management than on climate change.

“Climate change causes warmer temperatures. Warmer temperatures means that more of the year is warmer, so it extends the fire season,” Shellenberger explained, but qualified the statement with, “high fuel load is a necessary and sufficient cause of high-intensity fires. Climate change is a neither necessary nor sufficient cause.”

In other words, while climate change may extend the fire season, high fuel loads in the nation’s forests are the culprit for the eruption of fires of this size. And negligent land management made that happen.

Tristan Justice is the western correspondent for The Federalist. Follow him on Twitter at @JusticeTristan or contact him at [email protected]

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