Forest fires and bureaucratic mismanagement

An experienced forester and an environmental scientist have some harsh words for politically correct “experts” and the authorities over the current spate of wildfires in US forests.

“Global warming may contribute slightly, but the key factors are mismanaged forests, years of fire suppression, increased population, people living where they should not, invasive flammable species, and the fact that California has always had fire,” University of Washington climate scientist Cliff Mass told TheDCNF.

Mass also noted there hasn’t been much warming in the Pacific Northwest, adding that natural weather patterns in California prime the state for wildfires every year no matter what.

. . .

Zybach also doesn’t buy that global warming is exacerbating fires. Through his research, Zybach analyzed thousands of official documents, reports and first-hand accounts of wildfire activity going back hundreds of years. His conclusion: wildfire season hasn’t changed much.

“To say there’s been another change, other than management, is just grasping at straws,” Zybach said.

What has changed is land management. For example, declines in timber production on federal lands, particularly in the Northwest, not only meant the death of a once vibrant industry, but also an end to thinning, controlled burns and other activities meant to keep forest growth in check.

Wildfire experts have also increasingly been pointing to the fact that more people and infrastructure are located in wildfire-prone areas than in the past, increasing the risk of wildfires impacting livelihoods.

A recent study found the number of homes at risk of wildfires in the western U.S. increased 1,000 percent since 1940, from about 607,000 in 1940 to 6.7 million. Since most fires are ignited by humans, the more people in fire-prone areas the higher the risk.

“This is a people problem,” said U.S. Geological Survey fire expert Jon Keeley. “What’s changing is not the fires themselves but the fact that we have more and more people at risk.”

. . .

Active management of the forests and logging kept fires at bay for decades, but that largely ended in the 1980s over concerns too many old growth trees and the northern spotted owl. Lawsuits from environmental groups hamstrung logging and government planners cut back on thinning trees and road maintenance.

Zybach said Native Americans used controlled burns to manage the landscape in Oregon, Washington and northern California for thousands of years. Tribes would burn up to 1 million acres a year on the west coast to prime the land for hunting and grazing, Zybach’s research has shown.

“The Indians had lots of big fires, but they were controlled,” Zybach said. “It’s the lack of Indian burning, the lack of grazing” and other active management techniques that caused fires to become more destructive in the 19th and early 20th centuries before logging operations and forest management techniques got fires under control in the mid-20th Century.

There’s much more at the link.  Recommended reading.

Another factor I can think of is the materials from which houses are built.  If brick, concrete or stucco walls are used, with corrugated iron or other fireproof materials for the roof, and as little exposed wood or other flammable materials as possible, the building is much more likely to survive a fire.  Similarly, if vegetation is cleared to a safe distance around the house, it’s much less likely that the fire will be able to reach it in the first place.  If one’s going to live in the midst of a natural firetrap, those seem like obvious precautions . . . but I suppose they’re not, judging by the ever greater number of people encroaching on our forests and formerly “wild” lands.

Despite that, however, I have no problem blaming mismanagement for many of the current problems. Environmentalists have often substituted feelings for facts. We’re seeing the results right now. I imagine most of the spotted owls “saved” through their intervention are now nicely seasoned and roasted, just in time to feed the weary fire crews as they clean up.



  1. Carmel, CA mandates the use of pine shingle roofing. In a city that is almost invisible because of all the pine trees that grow around and over almost every home. And the pine needles have to be left on the ground because there's always some EPA protected thing growing or living there.

  2. I seem to remember reading that the spotted owls are still going extinct, either because they can't be bothered to breed with each other, or because they prefer to breed with a different species of owl – the barred owl maybe?

    's probably why you don't hear anything about them these days.

  3. There is a guy outside of Julian, California, in the mountains east of San Diego, who built a multi-thousand gallon water tank on a hill above his house with gravity fed sprinklers on and around his house, including under the eaves. The neighbors mocked the expense. Come the 2003 Cedar Fire and he had 500 fewer neighboring homes.

    Similarly, a friend here in Montana built a concrete home with 18-inch walls and a copper roof. When the fire came crews set up camp in his yard, claiming it was the most defensible ground in the area. He had fewer neighbors after the fire too.

  4. In my younger days I did a lot of wild land fire prevention/suppression and was always disturbed by the land owners who refused to build any defensible space around their home and insisted that it was our "responsibility" to protect them from fire. In fact, after a fire the owners of the few homes that were left standing because they had taken step to protect themselves were usually driven out by neighbors who were to lazy/dumb to provide for themselves.

    I'm no longer in forestry, but the people have not changed one bit.

  5. There is a fungus moving north in CA that kills oak trees. The forests around the Big Sur coastal area had a fair percentage of oaks in their makeup. Knowing that the trees were dying or dead, the Powers-That-Be still refused to allow wood removal from the area. That huge fuel buildup made fire suppression impossible once the expected lightning strike fire ignition occurred. The result was pre-ordained, due almost entirely to the lack of critical thinking capacity of the Eco-Wackos that infest the West Coast. With a huge effort, they were able to save the town of Big Sur, but nothing else. Supposedly, the fire was so hot, that it sterilized the top soil, negating the ability of the land to recover. I haven't been down there since. My sister sold their property in town for pennies to the dollar since land value had crashed, and job reasons had forced them to relocate. What should have been their retirement fund evaporated as quickly as the forests there did.

  6. The Eco-Wackos live here in West Oz also.

    My parents built a house from field-collected stone on an orchard.

    After construction, they were ordered to put fire-breaks around their property on pain of fines for non-compliance, then fined for felling trees in order to comply with the order.

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