Last week, President Trump came to California to be briefed on the horrific fires now raging in California.
Instead, he got a lecture from Governor Newsom and his staff on climate change.
If Gavin Newsom actually believes that if we would all just ride our bikes to work and set our thermostats to 80 degrees, that these wildfires will go away, then he is completely delusional.
Excess timber comes out of the forest in only two ways – it is either carried out or it burns out. For most of the 20th Century, we carried it out. It’s called “logging.” Every year, US Forest Service foresters would mark off excess timber and then we auctioned it off to lumber companies who PAID US to remove it, funding both local communities and the forest service. We auctioned grazing contracts on our grasslands. The result: healthy forests, fewer fires and a thriving economy.
But beginning in the 1970’s, we began imposing environmental laws that have made the management of our lands all but impossible. Draconian restrictions on logging, grazing, prescribed burns and herbicide use on public lands have made modern land management endlessly time consuming and ultimately cost prohibitive. A single tree thinning plan typically takes four years and more than 800 pages of analysis. The costs of this process exceed the value of timber – turning land maintenance from a revenue-generating activity to a revenue-consuming one.
Since 1980, these laws have produced an 80 percent decline in timber harvested out of the federal forests and a concomitant increase in acreage destroyed by fire. In California, the number of sawmills has declined from 149 to 27.
These laws were passed with the promise they would improve the forests. After more than four decades, I think we are entitled to ask, how are the forests doing?
An untended forest is just like an untended garden. It will grow and grow until it chokes itself to death. In a morbidly overcrowded state, stressed trees fall victim to disease, pestilence, drought and ultimately catastrophic wildfire. In many regions of the Sierra, timber density is four times greater than the land can support.
We have been trying for years to reform these laws, resume active forest management and restore our forests to health. Yet the environmental leftists have blocked us every year.
Instead, politicians use the excuse of climate change.
Really? These environmental laws generally apply only to public lands. Today, you can easily tell the boundaries between private and public lands solely by the condition of the forests. How clever of the climate only to decimate the public lands.
The climate has changed much over the centuries, but the problem has not. When Juan Cabrillo dropped anchor in Santa Monica Bay in October of 1542 – the height of the Santa Ana fire season – he named it, “The Bay of Smoke.” Before western civilization, paleontologists tell us that we lost between 4 and 12 million acres a year to wildfire in California. Modern forest and land management brought that destruction down to just a quarter million acres during the 20th Century. That annual destruction is now back up to three million acres a year. That’s not a new normal. That’s the old normal reasserting itself. That’s not climate change – that’s how nature deals with overgrown lands. And once destroyed, it can take centuries for the forests to re-grow.
We began active forest management to break that cycle. We decided that we wanted EVERY generation to enjoy our forests. So we introduced scientific forest management to do a little gardening and keep our forests healthy by suppressing brush and harvesting excess timber so it couldn’t crowd itself to death. And it worked, until environmental laws abandoned science for ideology.
The planet has been warming and cooling for millennia. Warmer temperatures make it all the more important to match tree density to the ability of the land to support it. That means more logging; not less.
California has taken draconian measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions at a terrible cost for the quality of life of Californians. We now suffer some of the highest costs of energy in the country, we have destroyed our manufacturing base and we can’t guarantee enough electricity to keep our refrigerators running. And yet, a single catastrophic fire makes a mockery of all these laws and the sacrifices they impose on our people.
Mr. Newsom says he has no patience for such views. That is a tragedy for all Californians, and for California’s forests.