Catastrophic wildfires in the West

A made in Washington fiasco

burned horseThe massive wildfires ravaging forests, ranchland, farmland, and private homes in the West have also taken a heavy toll on human life.  So far this year, 11 people have been killed fighting the gigantic blazes, according to federal officials.

Wildlife, livestock, and the region’s natural beauty have all fallen victim to the blazing infernos. A wildfire that burned across eastern Oregon and southern Idaho consumed 300,000 acres of rangeland.   In neighboring Washington, state officials report that wildfires have scorched 235,000 acres, destroying 50 homes and 60 other structures.

In the semi-arid, windswept West, wildfires are a common occurrence and can even be beneficial.  By burning underbrush and smaller trees, for example, wildfires can contribute to healthier forests.  But the conflagrations plaguing the West don’t come from Mother Nature; they are the result of gross mismanagement of public lands by the federal government, notably the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

“Outdated environmental laws and regulations”

overgrowthIn an August 17 letter to President Obama, Brenda Richards, president of the Public Lands Council, and Philip Ellis, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, put the blame on this summer’s destructive wildfires squarely on the “severe mismanagement of federally owned forests and rangelands, due to outdated environmental laws and regulation along with the abuse of the legal system by radical special interest groups.”

They noted that, by some estimates, over 82 million acres of overgrown USFS forestlands “are at elevated risk of catastrophic wildfires, insect, or disease outbreaks.”  According to the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, California’s national forests currently average 266 trees per acre on a landscape that has historically sustained just 20 to 100 trees per acre. “This has led to stressed trees prone to disease, pestilence, and catastrophic wildfire,” Richards and Ellis added.

Increased funding not the answer

According to the Agriculture and Interior Departments, there are currently 19,000 interagency personnel fighting wildfires in 13 states.  The National Interagency Fire Center puts the number of wildfires this year as of August 10th at 39,609 and the number of acres burned at 6.5 million, 38% higher than normal.  The USFS alone has spent $671 million this year suppressing wildfires.  The administration’s response to all this is, predictably, is to seek to increase funding for fire suppression.

USFSfirefighterMoney, however, isn’t the answer.  The national forests are tinder boxes because they are overgrown.  They are overgrown, because they are mismanaged.  They are mismanaged because laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and litigation by environmental groups do not allow for the timely removal of dead and diseased trees or for the harvesting of enough timber to keep national forests resistant to conflagrations.

Livestock grazing on BLM lands has been reduced by as much as 50% since 1971, while the timber industry in the West has undergone a steady decline – “all almost entirely due to federal laws and regulations and predatory environmental groups,” Richards and Ellis wrote the White House.  “The result is the accumulation of fuel which causes catastrophic fires which are causing lasting harm to forest ecosystems and Western communities – the watershed, wildlife, air quality, rural communities, and the taxpayers are all negatively impacted,” they added.

The Obama Administration isn’t going to lift a finger to undo the harm the USFS, the BLM, and environmental groups are doing to Western forestlands, rangelands, and rural communities.  This, after all, is the same Obama White House that has turned a blind eye to the EPA’s toxic spill into a river system in the Southwest.  Instead, the White House and its environmentalist allies continue to cite “climate change” as the leading cause of the wildfires.  The West is, in fact, undergoing a severe drought.  But droughts, including severe ones, are the norm in the West, and the region’s inhabitants have historically sought to adapt to whatever good or bad weather Mother Nature serves up.  The real problem is incompetent Washington bureaucracies that lord over hundreds of millions of acres of federal land in the West.

“Tragedy of the Commons”

tragedycommonsStewardship is best exercised by those who will be rewarded for prudent decisions and punished for imprudent ones.  Federal land managers have absolutely no stake in the vast empire they oversee; they get paid regardless of what happens.  Divesting the federal estate to private ownership, and putting an end to the “tragedy of the commons,” is the only way to liberate the rural West from Washington’s ineptitude.

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About the Author: Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., is a senior policy analyst with CFACT.

  • Brin Jenkins

    In the UK National Water Management bodies have mis managed rivers and streams for 30-40 years. Poor unhealthy trees fall over into rivers causing blockages, heavy rain backs up and washes these away causing flood damage down stream as the mini dams let go. Houses get flooded, flood management systems working of over a century are silted up and become ineffective and this is all blamed on Climate Change.

    Those who remember the old management systems that worked have been replaced and new graduates without a clue or experience are paid silly high salaries for incompetence.

    This happens under a system known as Common Purpose, and the new managers are all Common Purpose Graduates.

    • KLH6

      Does nobody see cause & effect anymore? The real data collected over the last 18 years show there was no global warming. It seems like if something is working they’ll want to change it. Most problems can be solved if you think logically & use critical thinking skills to solve problems.

      • Dano2

        The real data collected over the last 18 years show there was no global warming.

        False.

        Your critical thinking skills need work.

        Best,

        D

        • KLH6

          My critical thinking skills are fine. I’ve saved many lives over 38 years. You have to think fast on your feet. The actual increase is not enough to do much of anything. I watched a NASA scientist showing graphs & explaining. I’ve been to several sources but not liberal ones with an agenda. The crux of the matter is most of the warming is coming from the sun ( imagine that) & volcanoes. Carbon is in almost every living thing.

          • Dano2

            Educate yourself.

            Best,

            D

            • KLH6

              I have & I will never agree with your view. So afraid you’re wasting your time. My point is the warming is miniscule & we have a world on the brink of war. I just think the “sky is falling” mentality isn’t the answer.
              We have so many other problems that are much more urgent.

              • Dano2

                So you won’t educate yourself. Noted.

                Best,

                D

                • KLH6

                  You are passive-aggressive annoying. I am on disability with no extra money so I do hours of research & reading. I’ve lived in 3 different countries & visited others. I’ve been to over 30 states and all major US cities. I’ve met people from all over the world in different professions. I read multiple news dites. So knock off your subtle preachiness. I am very well rounded. I am a trivia buff. I know a lot of useless information about many things. I’m not obcessed, though, with any one thing including you.

          • cshorey

            Try not reacting and “thinking on your feet” here. Try rumination and study. The science of climate change is over 200 years old and predates any “liberal agenda”. The planet doesn’t care about politics. There is a lot of good research out there you seem to have missed.

      • cshorey

        The data over the last 18 years shows less warming in the atmosphere balanced by increased heating of oceans especially below 2000 m. But now that the ENSO is switching back, 2014 is the warmest year, but probably not by the end of 2015 the way things are going. Yep, there is still AGW despite the spin of CFACT.

        • KLH6

          How will an atomic bomb fallout affect the climate? ISIS & Muslims goal is to take over & they are doing it quite rapidly. Do you think they care about the climate? There are things that are going to destroy us long before we have to worry. Nobody will convince me that a less than 2° increase over 100 years is significant. Sharia law will have a much bigger impact on our lives.

          • cshorey

            Good example KLH6, seeing as ISIS grew out of a destabilized economic situation exacerbated by a drought that was made worse by climate change. The Pentagon calls climate change a “threat multiplier”. Think I’ll pay attention to climate change and religious fundamentalist zealots of all stripes. Seems a more complete and wiser approach.

            • KLH6

              Whatever floats your boat. That’s a
              good one. ISIS grew out of “climate change” & a drought in the desert. Hmmmm! Ask Al-Bagdadi if the caliphate had anything to do with climate. He’ll laugh in your face & then maybe behead you. Think I’ll not give you another thought. You should do the same. I’m one of those “climate change being all manmade deniers.” I’m beyond hope.

  • Anon Anon

    Mismanagement is a understatement. The forest must burn periodically to get rid of the brush, etc. Add to that building which 0revents burning.

    • Pam Dunn

      They discovered that in Florida YEARS ago thanks to a SINGLE INTELLIGENT Ranger that conducted an experiment that PROVED periodic burns were beneficial to Florida’s forests.
      Florida NOW does conduct controlled burns periodically.

  • Dano2

    Not going to part out the federal lands to the states, sorry tobacco guy.

    Best,

    D

  • cshorey

    Mismanagement is certain, but this article seems to ignore the blocking high and the studies showing that increased temps are making his worse. Both of those issues are tied to climate change, so this article is “half truth”. Not surprised to see a CFACT article miss the underlying climate signals here.

  • geode

    Apparently CFACT’s agenda is to support the livestock and logging industries. They would have us believe these industries’ activities add to the health of forests – a disingenuous claim at best. It’s fire suppression that’s made the western forests a tinder box and nothing else. How letting more cows tromp through streams and letting more loggers remove entire watersheds full of trees will improve things is something Cohen will never be able to explain.