Catastrophic Forest Fires: Why California is Feeling the Burn

Barb Wire

The proponents of our land management policies want to blame the drought for all the fires breaking out throughout our state. Unfortunately, our hands-off approach to land management created these catastrophes. The fact is that most of these areas have not burned in over 50 years, and droughts notwithstanding, wildland fires are both naturally occurring and inevitable. That begs the question, what should we be doing to limit the damage to the ecosystem, our homes and the risk to our firefighters?

The dominant world view of armchair environmentalists and their cohorts who run our state and nation’s regulatory agencies posit that nature should be left undisturbed. They believe mankind should be limited in its ability to manage, develop, access and utilize natural resources due to the deleterious impacts of these activities to the balance of nature. Accordingly, activities such as mining, logging, farming, ranching, oil development, housing and even recreation are discouraged on both public and private lands, given various sundry reasons.

Due to the fact that it is easier to control access to and use of public lands, there has also been a tremendous effort made over the course of the last century to purchase or seize as much land as possible, putting it into public domain. Here in Santa Barbara County, about half of the county is owned and/or controlled by our federal government in the form of Los Padres National Forest and Vandenberg Air Force Base. The question remains, just how good a job is this partnership between our government and Mother Nature doing in managing our natural resources?

Since 2010, Los Padres National Forest has suffered the deaths of 60 million trees. Of course, some people will attribute this loss to the drought, but that is only half the story. The truth is that the do-nothing approach to managing our forests and other natural resources is the real culprit here.

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A protocol to manage our forests would allow timber harvesting, which serves to remove dead, diseased and dying trees before they foment a crisis that is beyond control. In addition, by removing and thinning trees in a forest, you cut down on the spread of disease, you decrease the competition for water, and you serve to eliminate the devastating impacts of wildland fires. Moreover, by creating fire breaks and implementing prescribed burns, you also limit the destruction from fires by controlling fuel and creating the means by which to hold fire lines.

Allowing people to live in the forest area means that roads will be constructed. These roads also serve as fire breaks and they also create avenues of access to the forest areas for firefighters and their equipment. Further, encouraging ranchers to run cattle and manage the brush cuts down on the fuels that create the perfect conditions for out-of-control conflagrations.

The alternative to the do-nothing approach would allow citizens to proactively manage and utilize our natural resources. Due to the extreme fire threat in our county and state, it behooves residents to demand policy changes.

First published at The Santa Barbara News-Press

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

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