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Another View

‘Only you can prevent forest fires,’ a message to politicians

By: Leah Cavanaugh
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Before the flames were extinguished on last year’s devastating wildfires, Jerry Brown was in front of the cameras, exploiting the tragedies to blame human-caused climate change.

Let’s fact-check the governor’s claims.  

“Current climate is the hottest it's been since civilization emerged 10,000 years ago." Actually, California’s average temperature has changed little in the last 30 years, and there were periods in our history when temperatures were much hotter than today.

“The Wilderness Fire was a real wake-up call to reduce the carbon pollution that is driving all of this."

Climate ecologists describe a strong tie between fire frequency and weather, but say they cannot attribute that connection beyond normal, multi-decade variations seen throughout California history.

What created the conditions that have made our forests susceptible to cataclysmic wildfires? It is the failure to intelligently manage our forests. Best practices, such as tree thinning and the removal of litter, have been delayed and often prevented by lawsuits filed by environmental activists.  

Trees have multiplied until their density far exceeds the optimum, 20 to 100 trees per acre. Pine needles, decaying branches, and other combustible materials have been allowed to build up on forest floors.  

Over 45 percent of California’s acreage is owned by the U.S. government, which has shown to be an inept steward of land resources. Private property owners and companies that produce forest products are doing a much better job of maintaining healthy forests. Congress created the national forest system in 1897 to "furnish a continuous supply of timber for the use and necessities of citizens." Why are we now importing lumber from Canada and countries overseas, while millions of trees need to be cleared in our own backyard? Dozens of California sawmills were forced out of business when lawsuits by environmental groups choked off the supply of trees. Without these facilities to process trees, they have little commercial value.

Tree thinning not only reduces fire danger, it contributes to water-conservation. Tree thinning could save California billions of gallons of water annually. Trees suck up a huge amount of water, which is released into the atmosphere through evapotranspiration. This is water that would otherwise replenish groundwater and reservoirs. Trees shade snow, but they can also prevent precipitation from reaching the ground. Snow gets caught in the canopy, where it’s exposed to the sun and wind, evaporating before it can become part of the snowpack.  

I would expect those who claim they are concerned about the environment to support the maintenance of forests that are healthy and resistant to wildfires.

The fires California experienced last fall laid waste habitats that may never be reclaimed. They pumped more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than all the cars, trucks, planes and trains did all year.

The Resilient Federal Forest Act of 2017 was passed while Republicans controlled the House. The bill would have streamlined planning for forest management. It would have provided a process for arbitration that could avoid costly, lengthy litigation. It required a project’s environmental impact to be weighed against the consequences of taking no action.  Unfortunately, environmental activists and their Democratic allies in the Senate prevented the legislation from reaching the president.

This bill is just one measure that could facilitate better forest management.

Misguided legislation like the National Environmental Policy Act and The Endangered Species Act need to be reviewed and amended.

Government should support the reestablishment of the infrastructure needed to process logs locally. It is an investment that would make the thinning of our woods a revenue generating activity and could return hundreds of jobs to rural communities.

The filing of frivolous lawsuits ought to be discouraged. Under the Equal Access to Justice Act, environmental groups are reimbursed for attorney fees when they prevail. Shouldn’t those who file lawsuits found to be without merit be required to reimburse the government?

If you agree with positions expressed by me, you will find like-minded women and men at a meeting of Auburn Area Republican Women on Jan. 18, 11:30 a.m., at the Auburn Elks Lodge.  

For more information, contact Leah at cavanaugh@sebastiancorp.net. Cavanaugh is president of the Auburn Area Republican Women, Federated.