President Trump was right about forest management.
Why do I care? I have spent a great deal of my life caring for the land. I spent two years working as a firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service. I spent two years working as a firefighter for Cal Fire (then it was the California Department of Forestry and Fire protection, before the word forestry became politically incorrect). I have worked as a river guide for the San Joaquin River Parkway. I have worked as a forester under contract to PG&E. In addition to other studies I have a forestry degree from Reedley College. I have managed my own rangeland. I have consulted on the management of various types of open space for fun and profit.
I still have many friends who work in wildland firefighting. Some of these people got into this line of work because of me. A few years ago we lost a friend who was fighting a wildfire. My son is currently in a fire academy and hopes to follow me and his grandfather into wildland firefighting.
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I have a very visceral emotional response every time I see bad management putting our firefighters, citizens, property and the environment in danger.
“With proper Forest Management, we can stop the devastation constantly going on in California. Get Smart!”
“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”
Celebrities, public employee unions and average people responded harshly.
Trump is right. We do have a management problem on the state, federal level and local levels (in that order). This can be broken down into six key areas where we have failed: Access, logging, grazing, endangered species, water quality and air pollution.
▪ Access: There has long been a push to block access and create wilderness areas. This makes access more difficult during emergencies. This stops firewood scavenging in the national forests. Firewood collection creates mini fuel breaks along any open forest road. Only dead and down trees are legal to collect.
▪ Logging: If we never logged and we allowed the natural fire cycle to occur, we wouldn’t have to log now. Over the last century, we prevented the natural fire cycle. This wasn’t a problem until recently because logging thinned the forest as fire used to. Logging died at the hands of the misguided environmentalists in this state over the last 30-40 years. Fuels have accumulated. Logging thins forests and prevents wildfires from becoming catastrophic.
▪ Grazing: Grazing has been opposed for many suspect environmental reasons. Grazing thins brush. Grass fires are easy to fight and stay small. Brush fires are hard to fight and grow large quickly. In this way fire climbs to larger and larger fuels until it races through the crowns of the trees, leaving behind something eerily reminiscent of a nuclear blast.
▪ Endangered species: The constant “discovery” of “subspecies” by scientists whose funding and careers depend on finding them is dubious at best. Often good management practices are halted at the order of a court when one of the “subspecies” is “discovered” on a parcel of land.
▪ Water quality: Water quality is frequently used to halt grazing, logging, access, and other effective management tools.
▪ Air pollution: Air districts have a narrow window of air quality in which controlled burns are allowed. It would be much better to allow a little more air pollution from controlled burns then to wait for massive wildfires with extreme air quality problems.
Trump used the term forest managemen t— it would be more precise, but also more cumbersome, if he had said forest management, chaparral management, oak woodland management, grass land management, and desert management (I left off riparian management because it tends to burn less). He could have said wildland management.
In short,wildland fires have always been here and always will be. Bad management policy has created greater risk to citizens, firefighters, property, and the environment.
Joe Denham is the vice president of Denham Resources in Fresno.