No Minister

California Screaming – Fire

with 9 comments

For decades in the USA there has been a cartoon character who would warn the good people of America that:

Only YOU can prevent forest fires”.

Smokey the Bear was invented in 1944 by the US Forest Service as a way of enlisting the public in helping them fight forest fires, which was also a wartime concern as Japan tried forest fire attacks via balloons launched into the stratosphere aimed at the USA’s West Coast.

In addition to this the US Forest Service decided to throw everything and the kitchen sink at fighting these fires, using as much technology and manpower as they could afford, which was a lot in the booming post-war American economy. Their compatriots in the National Park service followed suit.

But as the years went by they began to notice that the fires were getting worse – much worse – even as they did everything to slow them down and stop them. Finally, in the early 1960’s, the Department of the Interior commissioned a study to look at ecosystem problems across the board in National Park, including predator control (Yellowstone elk were having to be constantly culled) and what came to be called fire ecology.

What the conclusions boiled down to for fire was that the “kill the fire” policy was actually making things worse because it was allowing huge buildups of fuel on the floors of the forests instead of steadily reducing and then stabilising it. So when fires did break out they became monsters.

So by the late 1960’s/early 70’s the policy was changed from suppression to management, allowing fires to burn while keeping an eye on them and acting only to protect developed areas. Events like the massive 1988 Yellowstone fires resulted in public and political backlash about this but although the decision criteria around fire fighting was modified the basic policy remained. However, the environmental movement began to impact this in other ways. Not that they went back to fire suppression, but – thinking that they were being kind to the environment – they started doing things that caused the same problems:

Shortly before leaving office in 2001, Clinton limited the ability of the United States Forest Service to thin out a dense thicket of foliage and downed trees on federal land to bring the West into a pristine state, Bob Zybach, an experienced forester with a PhD in environmental science, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. The former president’s decision created a ticking time bomb, Zybach argues.

“If you don’t start managing these forests, then they are going to start burning up. Thirty years later, they are still ignoring it,”

It was more than just underbrush management:

Under this policy, thousands of miles of forest roads were ripped out, roads built to allow the harvesting of timber, but also used by firefighters to access wildfires in the hinterlands before they spread to populated regions. And timber harvests plunged as much as 84 percent from 12 billion board feet per year to less than 2 billion board feet per year.

California was, as usual, the leader in this policy for the future, being even more fanatical than Clinton’s policies, (although other Western states like Colorado and Oregon are up there) reducing the state’s timber industry to less than a third the size of what it was 60 years ago. The state now imports 80% of its timber.

You would think that, given the natural dryness of California and the massive forests in the state, its leaders would not have been so stupid as to ignore the science. But even worse than the national logging policy, California’s Green sentiment also prevented controlled burns (for fear of disrupting animal habitats) and barred even minor brush-clearing programs.

As a result its forests are now twice as dense as they were 150 years ago — when the population was a fraction of today’s. Behind that unnatural density: state and federal rules that make it nearly impossible (and insanely expensive) to lay a finger on any of this precious overgrowth.

historically, ponderosa pines grew in stands of 20 to 55 trees per acre, but in some areas, they now grow in densities of 300 to 900 trees per acre. The unnatural density allowed what were formerly isolated pockets of insect infestations to morph into massive infestations killing large swaths of forests. There are now more dead trees in many federal forests than live ones, drying out and becoming growing stockpile of fuel for wildfires. Indeed, the U.S. Forest Service estimates more than 190 million acres of public land, almost all of it in the arid west, are at risk of catastrophic fires.

There’s a whole generation
With a new explanation

In addition to the mountain forests the hillsides above the cities of San Francisco, LA and most others are also overgrown with drought-stricken scrub and half-dead trees, in part due to restrictions on grazing, brush removal, as well as logging. They’re the kindling.

And it’s not just the evil Right Wing of the Heritage Foundation that’s pointing this out. Here’s The Guardian:

As part of a project to study California’s fire history, we sampled almost 2,000 fire-scarred trees and stumps in the Sierra Nevada. What was equally arresting as finding 10 or more scars in a single tree, however, is what we did not find. Of the hundreds of living trees we sampled, only a handful had even a single fire scar in the 20th century. 

Naturally, because it’s the Grundian, there’s shout-outs to Global Warming and the genius fire management of indigenous peoples, but the key point is not denied and it’s not just current science but history telling the tale:

… a 2007 paper in the journal Forest Ecology and Management found prior to European colonization in the 1800s, more than 4.4 million acres of California forest and shrub-land burned annually, far more than the area of California that has burned since 2000, which ranges from 90,000 acres to 1,590,000 acres per year.

But even though wildfires have declined over all in the USA (and around the world), in California 10 of the state’s 20 largest, most deadly fires ever occurred in the last decade.

To make things worse California’s leaders, instead of admitting they got it wrong, have actually been using the wildfires of recent years as an excuse to go even crazier on the environmental front, via blaming the fires on AGW.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. They warn of cataclysmic climate change if we don’t suddenly remove the fossil fuel energy on which their state (and the Western world) built its modern, prosperous, comfortable lifestyle. Then they work against any sensible management of California’s forests that would reduce the severity of routine regular wildfires. Then, when the wildfires become record-breaking conflagrations, they point and say, “See, I told you so.”

They’re like arsonists admiring their handiwork from afar.

Just one other example of how these political and media “environmentalists” don’t understand the environment is shown in how they shed tears about the terrible fires destroying the great redwood forests:

“Hundreds of trees burned at Big Basin Redwoods State Park,” reported Shawn Hubler and Kellen Browning for The New York Times. “Park officials closed it on Wednesday, another casualty of the wildfires that have wracked the state with a vengeance that has grown more apocalyptic every year.”

“The protected trees, some 2,500 years old, were nearly wiped out by loggers in the 1800s,” claimed CBS News’ Jonathan Vigliotti. “Now human-caused climate change has damaged or destroyed many of these ancient giants.”

Except that these old-growth redwood forests need fire to survive and thrive. Heat from fire is required for the release and germination of redwood seeds, and to burn up the woody debris on the forest floor. The trees themselves survive – as long as the fires are of normal, historic scale, rather than monsters fueled by the stupidity of environmentalists:

“I see [the current California fires] as a normal event, just not one that happens every year,” Jon Keeley, a leading forest scientist, told me. “On July 30, 2008, we had massive fires throughout northern California due to a series of lightning fires in the middle of the summer,” he said. “It’s not an annual event, but it’s not an unusual event.”

“The idea that fire is somehow new,” said geographer Paul Robbins of the University of Wisconsin, “a product solely of climate change, and part of a moral crusade for the soul of the nation, borders on the insane.” 

The cherry on top is that despite all this sturm and drang, California’s GHG emissions over the past decade have fallen less than 39 other states.

Coastal California is hilly, difficult to build on, and prone to devastating earthquakes. It is semi-arid, without much of an aquifer. The watershed of the Sierra Nevadas is more than 200 miles away. In other words, some of the people most eager to offer green sermons to others live in one of the most artificial and ecologically fragile environments on the planet, and they’ve been managing it very poorly even as they’ve shouted their own praises from the rooftops.

On his final day in office in January 2019, California Governor Jerry Brown admitted as much by quietly signing bills removing impediments to “controlled burns” and allotting $190 million a year to “improve forest health and fire prevention.” Whether this is followed up by enough practical action to slow down the monster fires is yet another question since the state increasingly can’t seem to accomplish anything.

Written by Tom Hunter

May 22, 2021 at 9:43 am

9 Responses

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  1. Tom … my apologies for thread-jacking although this is about California too. I see that the recall petition against Governor Newsom (D) was successful with the certified number of signatures exceeding the 12% of voters required to trigger a new election. California is a deep deep Blue state and one suspects the only way Newscom could be ousted will be if there is a plethora of candidates standing under the Democrat banner like what happened when Schwarzenegger came through the middle to win the 2003 recall election.

    The Veteran

    May 22, 2021 at 2:45 pm

    • Not thread-jacking at all, Vet.

      I see the co-founder of Netflix has thrown $3 million into efforts to challenge and overturn the recall, and there will likely be other IT titans following up, so it’s not a done deal yet.

      Even so, it would not surprise me at all if Newsom got re-elected. As far as I know there are few, if any Democrats of note throwing their hat in the ring against him, probably because the state party wants to further demonstrate their power over the plebes.

      In any case, given the Democrat’s super-majorities in the State House and Senate it doesn’t matter if the Governor is a Republican; any proposals put forward will be squashed and any attempts to veto their legislation will be over-turned, such is their power, as we learned with “Girly Man” Arnuuulllddd. It’s a One Party State.

      About the best one can say of the recall is that it would be just punishment for Newsom to get the boot, given his hypocrisy on Covid lockdowns, masks and so forth. That unmasked, close-talking dinner table soirée with the high and the mighty in what is reported to be the most expensive restaurant in the world was merely the last straw.

      Tom Hunter

      May 22, 2021 at 3:23 pm

  2. Tom … FYI … the following Democrats have filed a Statement of Intent to run with the California Secretary of State’s office … Anthony L. Fanara; Luis Huang, candidate in the 2020 Irvine mayoral election; Kevin Paffrath, real estate broker and finance YouTuber; Ronald J. Palmieri; Armando ‘Mando’ Perez-Serrato, business owner and Joel A. Ventresca.

    I agree that if the election goes ahead there will be huge pressure applied by the State Democrat Party on them not to run. Tammany Hall politics in action.

    As I understand it and given that on 26 April the office of the California Secretary of State announced the recall petition had gained the necessary valid signatures, the only way to prevent that happening is that if, in the 30 day ‘cooling off’ period (due to expire on Wednesday), sufficient numbers of those who signed the petition can be persuaded to withdraw their support as to bring the numbers below the 12% of voters trigger point.

    The Veteran

    May 22, 2021 at 3:50 pm

    • Heh! Well, you’re more up on this one than me. As I said, I really don’t give a crap if there’s no prospect of fundamental legislative and bureaucratic change – and there isn’t.

      Tom Hunter

      May 22, 2021 at 4:57 pm

  3. We were in Canadian rockies a few years ago on a tour and were on a lake and the guide talked about the forests. He said the forests were dead even though the trees was still Green. We asked him what he meant and he said that’s because there were no fires allowed the Forests had become too thick and no wildlife lived in them any more. No moose or deer or bears or even birds. He said set in the early days thunder and lightning would set Fire to The Forest every few years and keep them habitable for the animals. Government policies on burning had killed the forests.
    In Alaska on the same trip we’re told Clintons policy on forests had killed the logging industry and Many small communities.
    Politicians and Greenies bigger up what has been a natural occurance for hundreds of years.


    May 23, 2021 at 6:02 am

  4. Tom … one suspects you are right. California is a one Party state … much like NZL.

    The Veteran

    May 23, 2021 at 12:14 pm

    • Really? Just because Labour can govern alone, the Nation is now a “one party state” and there will be no further elections? Looks like the “SLG” has delivered biggly.

      I guess you hanker for the days of FFP to return so the One Party is Notional. 🙂 The will of the people has never mattered to the right, has it?

      Little Dorrit

      May 23, 2021 at 1:59 pm

  5. Back to the OP

    You use the word “drought” once, in passing, although the prolonged drought is responsible for an enormous number of tree deaths.

    California is around 1/3 forest/woodland, and of that only around 2% is under state government control. The remaining 98% is owned by federal agencies, private and tribal owners. So much for Trump getting his agencies to “rake the forest floors”.

    If you had any knowledge of fire behaviour at all, you would also know that forest fires are generally more predictable, slower burning, and easier to control than grassland fires that are erratic according to wind shifts, can travel vast distances in short times, and can take more life and property than a forest fire.

    Little Dorrit

    May 23, 2021 at 2:09 pm

  6. Little Dorrat, I’m not sure there are a lot of grassland fires in California or Australia for that matter. if so the are not as spectacular as a forest fire!

    But we were talking about forest fires, and what I have seen of Australian Eucalypt fires, they seem to move pretty quick, they almost explode. Is that because of the gas the trees give off, you think LD?

    On top of that in California you can get a wind called the Santa Ana, plus the forest fire itself creates its own wind, a bit like Hamburg and Dresden.

    Australia is on the same latitude as New Zealand and last time I looked both get a lot of wind.

    While I think the California fires should be left to burn its hard to go past all the bombing aircraft, like DC-10’s and 747’s flying below a 1000 feet and dumping their loads… being an aircraft fanatic and all that, I enjoy that fabulous flying. Cant do that with a grass fire!

    Still interesting comment on grass fires Dorrat.


    May 23, 2021 at 6:44 pm

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