Environment

California’s Paradise Lost

11/16/18
from The Wall Street Journal,
11/12/18:

Trump is ... right about bad forest management.

One problem with President Trump’s bullying rhetorical style is that he gives his critics reason to ignore him even when he has a point. Consider his weekend threat to yank federal funds from California amid its horrific wildfires. Three fires are raging across the state, killing at least 31 people and scorching more than 200,000 acres, including the town of Paradise in the Sierra Nevada foothills. “There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “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!” Mr. Trump has no empathy gene even if he is right about forestry ills. Relentless winds and low air moisture make California’s fires harder to contain while development is putting more people in danger. But also fueling the fires is an overgrown government bureaucracy that frustrates proper forest management. About 57% of California forestland is owned by the federal government while most of the rest is private land regulated by the state. Nearly 130 million trees died in California between 2010 and 2017 due to drought and a bark beetle infestation. Dense forests put trees at greater risk for parasitic infection and enable fires to spread faster. When dead trees fall, they add more combustible fuel. Once upon a time the U.S. Forest Service’s mission was to actively manage the federal government’s resources. Yet numerous laws over the last 50 years, including the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act, have hampered tree-clearing, controlled burns and timber sales on federal land. California also restricts timber harvesting and requires myriad permits and environmental-impact statements to prune overgrown forests.

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