The reality of wildfire disaster

Rancher Dave Daley pens a long missive describing the reality of losing his herd to mountain wildfires, and the insanity of looking to either politicians, or environmental and climate activists, to find solutions to the problem.  It’s a long article, but well worth reading, because it describes reality as seen and experienced on the ground, not pie-in-the-sky theory.  Here’s an excerpt.

I am enveloped by overwhelming sadness and grief and then, anger. I’m angry at everyone, and no one. Grieving for things lost that will never be the same. I wake myself weeping almost soundlessly. It is hard to stop.

I cry for the forest, the trees and streams, and the horrible deaths suffered by the wildlife and our cattle. The suffering was unimaginable.

When you find groups of cows and their baby calves tumbled in a ravine trying to escape, burned almost beyond recognition or a fawn and small calf side by side as if hoping to protect one another, you try not to wretch. You only pray death was swift. Worse, in searing memory, cows with their hooves, udder and even legs burned off still alive who had to be euthanized. A doe lying in the ashes with three fawns, not all hers I bet. And you are glad they can stand and move, even with a limp, because you really cannot imagine any more death today. Euthanasia is not pleasant, but sometimes it’s the only option. You don’t want more suffering. How many horrible choices have faced us in the past three days?

. . .

I am absolutely tired of politicians and politics, from both the left and the right.

Shut up. You use tragedies to fuel agendas and raise money to feed egos. I am sick of it. And it plays out on social media and cable news with distorted and half-truths. On both sides!

Washington, DC is 3,000 miles away and filled with lobbyists, consultants and regulators who wouldn’t know a sugar pine from a fir. Sacramento is 100 miles south and feels even more distant than DC.

. . .

Politicians stage drive by photo-ops to raise money. None of us really like you. We’re just forced to deal with you. Of course, there are many exceptions and you know who you are. I hate to visit an office to discuss issues when the legislator is far more interested in talking than listening. It seems that nobody can be a centrist, make sense and win.

There is plenty of blame to go around on both sides of the aisle.

And just maybe it’s both [factors]—horrible forest management and climate change. Don’t you think months of massive smoke covering the West may impact the climate, especially added to our other pollutants? Does it matter which came first? Why not invest in solutions rather than using sound bites to gin up the base? And locally, we know the solutions. And those investments should be locally conceived and locally driven.

. . .

Bureaucrats and well-intentioned regulators who don’t know they don’t know have tied our hands, and the blame is shared at the both the state and federal levels.

Lest you think I am a complete rube, I earned my PhD in Animal Science 35 years ago at Colorado State. I loved teaching and ranching – so I did both. But I am a cattleman at heart. And, I have been involved in industry activities for many years, serving as Past President of the California Cattlemen’s Association, current Chair of the California Cattle Council, Chair of the Forest Service committee for the Public Lands Council and Chair of Federal Lands for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

I have walked the halls of Congress, met with legislators in both Sacramento and DC. I advocate for the cattle community to anyone who will listen. I have shared meals with legislators in DC, Chicago and Sacramento at wonderful restaurants noted for fine dining. The company, food and conversation were enjoyable. I have had bologna sandwiches and beer in the mountains with ranchers and loggers. Somehow, the air seemed cleaner and the food was better with them. Something about straightforward honesty and hard work is appealing.

I invite any legislator or regulator, state or federal, to come with me to this devastation. Leave your photographer behind, put on boots and let’s go. I will buy the bologna. We have created tragedy after tragedy across the west. We need solutions.

. . .

Mega-fires are a recent product of lack of use of fire, less grazing and over-regulation. Mismanagement. In recent history, almost every mega-fire has started on state or federal lands. These catastrophic fires contribute to climate change. Yet the guidelines followed by the feds on National Forest and the State on State Parks lands are “one size fits all.” It is beyond dumb. It’s no one’s fault. It’s everyone’s fault. Listen to the Forest. Listen to the locals.

It was estimated the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa produced more CO2 and pollutants in one week than all of the cars in California in one year. We have already had six of the largest 25 fires in California history in 2020. The Bear Fire has eclipsed 250,000 acres and is still burning. To me this is very personal, but this is a much bigger problem than my family having our cattle killed.

I get frustrated with experts and consultants who drive by and “know just what to do.” For 35 years I have attended conferences, given presentations and listened. What I have learned is solutions are local and specific. What happens in one watershed in Plumas or Butte County may be entirely different in the Lassen National Forest just next door. But experts of all kinds are glad to tell you how to do it. “Let’s prescribe graze, use virtual fences, change your timing, change your genetics.” Prescribe graze the forest and canyons? Yea. Right. They don’t know what they don’t know but they will take the honorarium anyway and have a great dinner on your dime. The locals and land rarely benefit.

. . .


It is day 12 and we still are in the same pace because we have no choice. We are finding one or two head per day that have lived so it is difficult to stop, but the numbers are dwindling so we have to shift our focus to those that lived. It is hard to do. We have put 1,200 miles on the 4-wheelers in just a few days. I quit counting the number of tires we have ruined and how much chainsaw work we are doing. Unfortunately, today we had to begin euthanizing some of the cattle that we brought home. But they were home, fed and watered.

The fire is still not contained and takes runs depending on the wind. I am not sure what next year will bring.

There’s much more at the link, written by one who knows the issues and the reality intimately.  It’s a cry from the heart, and well worth reading in full.

Mr. Daley’s comments about politicians and bureaucrats and activists ring true, because the same complaints have been voiced by many others about many other situations.  I’m reminded of the reintroduction of wolves and other predators in several western states.  Almost universally, we hear from ranchers and other locals that state and federal bureaucrats and administrators either didn’t keep them fully informed, or deliberately lied to them, or put all sorts of obstacles in their way if they try to complain about the consequences of that reintroduction.  I know personally ranchers who’ve lost cattle to such predators, but find it so difficult to make their case and claim compensation that they’ve simply given up.  Instead, they now follow the ancient and time-honored 3-S method.  It solves their problem when the bureaucrats and officials won’t.

Sadly, that solution can’t be applied to wildfires.  However, those who are most to blame for them might wish to consider carefully.  In several parts of Africa, I know that a simple solution for arsonists, obstructionists and others is applied during wildfires.  If such critters are encountered, the fire crews simply tie them up and throw them into the hottest available part of the fire.  It happens surprisingly often, but is almost never reported, because the victims can’t complain.  They can’t reoffend, either.  (I wonder whether the arsonists we’ve seen at work during our present urban unrest ever worry about that?)



  1. "…And it plays out on social media and cable news with distorted and half-truths. On both sides!"

    And that's where I stopped reading.

    1. Why, Roy? Seriously. Why? What's your substantive complaint? No one can judge it if you don't tell anyone what it is. It's no more informative than Little Johnny opining, "Roy's wrong," without reading LJ explaining why he thinks that. We've no idea why you say that or quite what you mean. If you want to be thought of as more than an uninformative heckler, you need to provide some rationale and evidence. Otherwise, most will dismiss you as a heckler because all you've done is heckle.

  2. Something interesting about the release of wolves back into the 'wild.' There's been a corresponding increase in single hikers gone missing. But nobody talks about that, because wolves never prey on humans, or so I'm told.

    As to what to do? Listen to the experts, the real experts. Who say logging, grazing, smaller controlled burns all keep mega-fires down. But what do the real experts know?

    It's criminal what's been done to our forest out west. We had a similar situation in Florida in the 80's and 90's, until we got a republican governor who had balls (yes, I'm talking about JEB! He was a good governor.) and we had the Firestorms of 1998.

  3. I can't blame the guy for complaining about everyone. Read the words. This is the writing of a man who is probably one bad day away from picking up a rifle and going off to lighten the tax load in Sacramento.

  4. Well, maybe I was a bit harsh, but here's the thing:

    My time is worth something to me. And I am getting heartily tired of folks who say: "…both sides!", when we all know it is most assuredly NOT both sides! (If it were, then it wouldn't matter a damn who wins on November 3rd.) So as soon as I see that, I'm done. I move on.

    I'm sorry the OP had this tragedy befall him, but I had nothing to do with it.

  5. I have to side with Roy on this one. (Though I did read further.)

    Both sides? Really? Sure, both sides try to play it for whatever they can, but only one side is predominantly RESPONSIBLE for what happened. The "both sides" quibbling just makes it sound like he's afraid to ruffle someone's feathers in the current bureaucracy.

    The BS about climate change just sounds like Daley is as mislead as the bulk of the idiots in office. And does it matter which came first? Only if you care about cause and effect. The smoke produced by these fires is miniscule and fleeting compared to global processes of climate.

    Yeah, I get he's frustrated. But he ought to shut up about things beyond his area of expertise if he's only going to parrot media propaganda. I accept his expertise in cattle, but not climate change. His primary error is in thinking anyone in any position of authority cares about him and his cattle or the wildlife except himself. He's on his own, and he ought to be grown up enough to realize that. He always was. Government is NOT here to help you, generally speaking. Never pretend that it is.

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