Fuel Load

Lots of politicians, especially those on the left side of the political spectrum, like to say they “listen to the science”. In many cases, I would contend that they listen to the science very selectively.

My prime example would be the wildfire situation in California, which gets blamed on global warming by the great and good. It is certainly possible that rising aggregate temperatures may contribute to the problem, but we have conducted a natural experiment that points very definitively to another cause, which is a much larger contributor.

Over the course of the last six years, a significant percentage of the land that is not actually planted in vineyards in Napa and Sonoma counties has been ravaged by wildfires. The control feature of the experiment is that, even though virtually every fire had at least one border on areas of prior fires, there was little or no overlap. Why would that be? The blindingly obvious answer is fuel load.

Here are some uncontested facts. California is a desert and has been for hundreds of thousands of years. Almost all the water in the central valley and the southern part of the state is pumped in from elsewhere. We have periodic droughts. That history is in the growth rings of redwood trees going back more than a thousand years. The cycle of growth (before we white folks interrupted it) is periodic fires caused by lightening that burn brush in open spaces and underbrush and dead trees in the forests. The ash provided fertilizer for healthy trees and grass. Brush gradually supplants the grass and the cycle repeats itself.

We recently had a severe, multi-year drought. In addition to the vegetation killed as a result, the drought enabled an insect infestation attacked millions of weakened trees. We ended up with a fuel load so dense that fire control was impossible.

Our governor stood in front of a burned out house and blamed climate change for the devastation. He used “science” as an excuse for his own failure to address the situation (which he had loudly claimed he would address when he was running for the office). We need to harvest dead trees. We need to legislate an end to environmentalist lawsuits that shut down such harvests and prevent control burns. We need to thin the brush. We need to construct defensible fire lines around built up areas. The state is too crowded to allow the return of the natural fire cycle, but we can replicate some of the effects. We need to quit using “science” selectively and stare all of the facts in the eye without blinking.

A Different View