It’s a wildfire year to remember in Northern California. The past 10 months have produced four of the top eight most destructive wildfires in California’s history, a number that could easily increase by October. Fire personnel working on the massive fires this year have all come to the same conclusion – this is unlike anything they’ve ever seen. Wildfires are burning faster and hotter than we’ve ever seen and the theories surrounding this sudden change have made their way to Capitol Hill.
When Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited the charred remains of the Carr Fire, he declared the cause of these fast-moving fires had nothing to do with climate change, and everything to do with a lack of logging and clear-cutting in forest areas. He even went on to blame it on environmentalists.
“America is better than letting these radical groups control the dialogue about climate change,” Zinke told KCRA. “Extreme environmentalists have shut down public access. They talk about habitat and yet they are willing to burn it up.”
President Donald Trump even chimed in on Twitter, blaming water passage laws on the fire:
California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amounts of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire from spreading!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 6, 2018
Whether or not you agree with the water passage laws, most people agree that they have little to no effect on the exaggeration of wildfires. In fact, Scott McLean, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, quickly debunked that statement.
“We have had no issues accessing water to fight the fires,” McLean said. “This year’s changing weather pattern is leading to more severe and destructive wildfires.”
There is certainly some truth to the forest management argument. Researchers have concluded that fire suppression has left forests dense, dry and primed to burn. But Zinke’s assertion that the fault lies entirely with environmentalists is a stretch. Yes, mistakes have been made by environmentalists who overstep their boundaries. Today, modern-day conservationists have realized the science behind effective logging. The Save the Redwoods League has even started a program to cut down 10,000 acres of trees in the Redwood National and State Parks.
But denying climate change’s involvement in these fires is not only wrong – it’s dangerous.
“Specifically for the western states, we know that the wildfire activity in recent decades – at least half of it – is attributable to human-caused climate change,” Kristina Dahl, senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Guardian. “This is a reality that we have created and that we are living with, but this is an evolving situation. Where we are right now is just one point on a trajectory that is headed in a worsening direction.”
This sobering truth, called “the new normal” by Governor Jerry Brown, ushers in a new era of megafires for California. Nearly five years of drought have put us in a tough situation. Combine that with over a hundred years of poor forest management and the consequences are significant. These combined factors create a perfect firestorm, capable of even causing a devastating fire tornado.
Native Americans used to use controlled burns to manage their nearby forests and replenish the land. Their experience told them that dense and overgrown forest weren’t good for anything, and properly managing their growth was essential for safety and wildlife prosperity. These controlled burns haven’t taken place for over 100 years and the proof of their effectiveness are in the pudding.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that California will spend over a billion dollars on fires this year, not to mention the countless deaths, injuries and loss of meaningful structures. So finding a coherent solution to help mitigate and limit the massive fires in our state is crucial. But the first step is agreeing on the cause of the problem.
As the political firestorm surrounding these megafires will only increase in volume, it’s important to put ideology aside and see the true causes of California’s “new normal” as a confluence of events. Are these fires caused by human-caused climate change? Are they the product of over 100-years of poor forest management and extreme environmental groups?
Yes and yes. They are a combination of the two. A deadly combination.