TAPPI Over The Wire Paper 360
Past Issues | Printer Friendly | TAPPI.org | Advertise | Buyers Guide | Travels with Larry Archive FacebookTwitterLinkedIn
       

California Forest Fires Might be Mitigated by Legislation that Favors Harvesting

Print Print this Article | Send to Colleague


The following article contains industry-related opinion, originally shared by Chuck DeVore (Texas Public Policy Foundation VP and California State Representative) in his Nov. 16, 2018 editorial titled California's Deadliest Fire's Could Have Been Mitigated by Prevention:

At least 63 people have been killed with 631 reported missing in the California fires as thousands of firefighters, including 200 sent from Texas as well as other states, battle to contain the blazes. More than 7,000 structures have been destroyed, including up to 90 percent of the homes in Paradise, population 26,682, in Northern California’s Butte County. More than a quarter of a million people have been evacuated in both the north of the state by the Camp Fire and by other fires in Southern California, Hill and Woolsey.

Sparks from damaged or malfunctioning power lines operated by PG&E, a state-regulated electric utility, may have been to blame for the Camp Fire’s ignition amidst rugged federally-managed lands to the east of Paradise.

As California’s fire season burst back into the headlines, President Trump generated controversy with a weekend tweet emphasizing the role of forest management in these fires:

"There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!"

When deadly fires were burning last August, Mike Marcucci, the assistant chief of CAL FIRE, California’s main firefighting agency, noted in an interview with the CBS affiliate in San Francisco that, "It’s a daunting task that we’re working with some of our cooperators (i.e. federal and local authorities) to make sure we can get some of those trees out of the way to not add to some of the fuel." CAL FIRE experts expanded on the problem by blaming decades of policy that discouraged controlled burns to reduce the fuel load in the now-burning forests in the north and hillsides in the south, creating tinderbox conditions.

Some of the needed prescribed burns in Southern California’s coastal chaparral and grasslands have been deterred by environmental lawsuits and air quality concerns.

The federal government controls 46 percent of California’s land, much of it managed by the U.S. Forest Service, with NBC news reporting this past week that forests themselves are 60% federally controlled. In the three decades before 1990, foresters harvested 10-12 billion board feet of timber from national forests every year. By 2013, restrictive environmental policies cut that to 2.5 billion. While the harvest declined, so too did tree thinning and the clearing of brush and diseased trees. The Trump administration said it is reversing that trend with the biggest harvest of trees on federal land in 20 years, selling 3.4 billion board feet on some 3 million acres—still just a third of the typical pre-1990 harvest.
 
In California, tighter environmental controls, higher prices for timber harvesting permits, and competition from overseas and pine forests in American Southeast led to a collapse of the state’s timber industry. Employment in the industry in 2017 was half of what it was in the 1990s.

Harvesting trees on public land is controversial but helps pay for needed brush clearing. Many environmental groups vigorously oppose both. But fighting the larger, hotter fires that result without active forest management is even more costly and threatens lives. - Greg Petersen (Ret.) Georgia Department of Energy. 

But here is why it matters.

In my two decades of service with the California Army National Guard, we used to darkly joke that California’s four seasons were flood, fire, earthquake, and riot. California’s rainy season will follow soon after these fires, triggering deadly mudslides on the steep hills now being denuded of vegetation. Mudslides, moving fast and with little warning, have historically caused greater loss of life than fire.

Politics takes no timeout amidst the flame and smoke, and human policy bears part of the blame for this years’ tragic toll of life and loss of property.

When deadly fires were burning last August, Mike Marcucci, the assistant chief of CAL FIRE, California’s main firefighting agency, noted in an interview with the CBS affiliate in San Francisco that, "It’s a daunting task that we’re working with some of our cooperators (i.e. federal and local authorities) to make sure we can get some of those trees out of the way to not add to some of the fuel." CAL FIRE experts expanded on the problem by blaming decades of policy that discouraged controlled burns to reduce the fuel load in the now-burning forests in the north and hillsides in the south, creating tinderbox conditions.
 

Back to TAPPI: Over The Wire

Share Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn