Just a few weeks ago, there was a grim possibility that California could lose some of its prized giant sequoias to the Washburn fire. But a miracle happened. They were saved.
Well, not a miracle. It was a conventional method of wildfire management that kept the trees alive.
“A forest-thinning project that had removed trees and dense undergrowth” helped “tame fire behavior,” the Sacramento Bee reported last week. The fire “burned under the trees that loggers had left standing — instead of climbing into their canopies and devouring them.”
So if thinning works by denying wildfires a high-octane fuel, why not use it more often?
Because environmentalists throw a fit when it is. They’re so overtaken with their gospel of green that they will even file lawsuits to shut down thinning. This is exactly what Berkeley environmental group Earth Island Institute did in June, demanding “a halt to a new round of thinning projects getting underway in Yosemite, in the general vicinity of the Washburn Fire,” says the Bee.
So let’s get this straight: It’s OK to sacrifice the beautiful and ancient sequoias to save far less appealing scrub brush, smaller and sometimes diseased trees, and the spotted owl and other various species which are going to lose their habitats (or even die) when wildfires rage because forest management efforts the activists oppose were shut down.
Or are the sequoias just a pawn in a larger end game, which is decarbonization?
Their narrative tells us that wildfires are growing worse, and the planet is overheating because of man’s carbon dioxide emissions. Even the governor, who has somehow convinced himself that California is the land of freedom, has howled about “a climate damn emergency” that is making fires worse.
The data, however, say otherwise. The U.S. fires of 2017, among the worst of the last 70 years, burned only a fifth of the acreage that fires destroyed in 1930 and 1931, about fourth of the acreage in the late 1920s, and in all but one year from 1932 to 1936. Since, only in 2020 did acreage burned match that of 2017. In all the other years, including 2021, far less was lost.
In fact, Golden State wildfires since the year 1600 peaked two decades before California was admitted to the union.
Meanwhile, carbon dioxide emissions from human activity have been increasing sharply since the early 1950s. There is not even a hint of a correlation between CO2 emissions and wildfires that could be confused with causation.
Forest thinning is an effective, reasonable practice. There are a lot of Californians who’ve lost their homes and businesses who would like to tell policymakers to stop listening to a small but loud group of militants whose political clout is far out of proportion to their small numbers, and their eco-positions well out of sync with the mainstream. Had they done so long ago, lives and livelihoods would have been saved.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.