As Americans, most of us want to live in a clean environment, breath clean air and drink clean water. In the United States, conservatives as well as liberals share these aspirations. What we sometimes differ on his how best to accomplish these goals. Our citizens are great about changing their ways to strive to be more conscious about our safety, the safety of others and the healthiness of our environment. However, we also demand a balance between the health of our environment, the health of our economy and the safety of ourselves and our families. In our zeal to feel that we’ve done a good thing to protect the environment, sometimes we tend to ignore basic flaws in the fixes we employ. This blog series will explore different environmental fixes that may need to be rethought.
Lately, there’s been a horrific amount of devastation in the western United States caused by brush fires, some intentionally set. While some say that it must be global warming/climate change that causes these fires to burn hotter and longer, others say massive amounts of uncleared underbrush is the real issue. NOAA.org records the 11th hottest July in 2018 in the 124 years it’s been recorded; however, that means there were still 10 hotter months within those 124 years. There were at least 93 significant fires that have burned in the U.S. and Canada since 1825.
While this summer has been hot, as summers usually are, if you take a glance at data from 1960 and compare city temperatures close to the fires that are currently burning, you will find temperatures were higher on August 13, 1960 than they were on August 13, 2017. Sacramento had a high of 91.9 degrees in 2017 and a high of 102 degrees in 1960. For Redding, California, the temperature in 2017 was 100.9 for a high and 105.1 in 1960 on the same date. While it was hotter in those areas in 1960, and there were many more fires in 1960 than broke out in 2017 (103,387 fires in 1960; 71,499 fires in 2017), many more acres burned in 2017 than in 1960 (4,478,188 acres in 1960 and 10,026,086 acres in 2017).
If these devastating fires can be attributed to something other than global warming/climate change, what else could be the cause of 35 of those 93 fires to burn between 2007 and 2017? Many say that a mismanagement of our forests by environmentalist policies with good intentions is the reason there is a large fuel load in our forests (underbrush) that is needed to maintain, intensify and grow massive wildfires. Including President Trump in his tweet on August 6, 2018.
In 2002, President Bush tried to officially push thinning of forests and expanding allowable logging areas in an effort to curtail the damage of the yearly wildfires in the American West. His administration showed how, after a lengthy court fight of six years, an identified high-risk area was allowed to thin underbrush. A fire broke out before they finished clearing, and the thinned area was left intact while the overgrown areas burned. Environmentalists fought against that administration, believing wildfires set naturally (by lightning, etc.) should be let alone to burn, and that we shouldn’t fight these fires unless they threaten populated areas. Quite a contradiction to air quality environmentalist ideals.
While people on both sides of this issue understand that some burning is actually good for forests, and some trees actually benefit from fires, uncontrolled infernos fueled by large amounts of uncleared underbrush devastate neighborhoods, national forests, animal lives, food and habitats. Prescribed fires and the clearing of underbrush seems a reasonable way to go; however, this is fraught with legal peril. In order to burn on your land in many states, you need a permit and perhaps even certification before you can do so. Make sure you follow all the laws in the National Environmental Policy Act as well as the Endangered Species Act, and you better make sure your burn doesn’t go an inch past your property or you will find yourself in legal trouble.
While using controlled burns in areas where there are trees that need fire to reproduce should probably still be used, an alternative to prescribed fires perhaps is the use of prescribed goat grazing as widely used in Europe. Herds of goats are used to munch on the underbrush thus ridding the areas of fire kindling while, when properly managed, keeping habitats of forest floor animals intact. Using dogs to keep the goat herds in the right places, moving fencing, or a combination of both as well as the cost of laborers might be a big expense, but probably much more cost effective than the $2.495 billion budget that we blow through nearly every year dedicated to forest fires in the federal budget alone (not to mention the loss of houses and personal property).
According to the National Park Service, arson and human negligence accounts for up to 90% of wildfires. Smokey the Bear says that “in 2017, 63,546 human-caused wildfires burned nearly 5 million acres.” – (source: nifc.gov). Even while mostly blaming global warming on exacerbating the magnitude of wildfires, Public Radio International admits that there is an “‘unnaturally heavy fuel load’ on about 300 million acres” in the American West. Less grazing, restrictions on logging, and the red-tape and legal implications of controlled burns on private land have all contributed to this fuel load.
While good meaning people only wanted to protect the forest and forest animals from logging, prescribed burning, and domestic animal grazing, the consequences were that more forests are burning and more animals are killed or displaced by the environmental policies that have been in place in the last couple of decades.