How many times must we watch this story repeat itself? Destructive fires like the Cedar, Zaca and Moonlight in the early and mid-2000s should have been the first wake-up call to this issue. The Rush, Rim, Chips and Valley fires in the early 2010s should have REALLY been a wake-up call, but went ignored. In 2017, when the likes of the Atlas and Tubbs fires lit off and destroyed large swathes of Napa and Sonoma counties, it should have been impossible to disregard. And the 2018 wildfire season, boasting the deadly, explosive firestorms of the Thomas, Carr and Camp fires, should have been a call to action.
And yet, here we are now. As I write this, there are over three hundred and sixty out-of-control fires burning in California. The state government has issued a warning telling all 40 million residents of our state to be prepared to evacuate with as little as five to fifteen minutes of notice. Smoke and debris choke the skies, the wildlife, and the residents of not just California, but almost every state west of the Rockies…including those suffering from the pandemic that has already stricken our world.
Hell, there was even a tornado warning for a fire tornado a matter of a dozen or so miles from my home last weekend - the first time in the National Weather Service's history that they issued a tornado warning specifically for a fire whirl.
This is the cruel, harsh, sad reality created by over a century of forest and fuels mismanagement, stemming from a knee-jerk fire suppression reaction to an isolated destructive incident in the form of the Big Burn of 1910; bolstered further by the shuttering of much of the California logging industry due to the preservationist rhetoric and lawyer-based political and legal muscle of the passive school of environmentalism, and the groups that represent them.
The forests here are beyond overstocked; when the first European settlers arrived almost two centuries ago, western forests were composed almost entirely of giant old-growth trees spaced so far apart that you could drive a wagon between them with plenty of room to spare. Worst of all, the popular public perception of what a “pristine” forest is frequently translated to an impenetrable dog-hair thicket, which is a tinderbox just waiting to burn it and all the animals within it to ash.
As it currently stands, we need to reduce woody biomass in the Sierra Nevada, Cascades, Southern Coast Ranges, Klamaths and Transverse Ranges by almost 90 percent to mitigate fire risk and move towards returning it to a healthy pre-Colonial state.
Sadly, there is no perfect, clean, pretty answer to this issue. Further grants, policymaking and ballot measures are not enough to solve this issue. I deeply regret that I have to be the one who comes out to state that the only effective method to solve this problem is a “boots on the ground, saws revving in the forests” measure. Re-open the California logging industry, focus more on reducing fuels and less on further policymaking.
So, with that said, I would like to reach out to you, and please ask you to help me. I ask of any of you who do not wish to watch our forests; our homes; our lives; indeed, our very Golden State burn into nothing but a fine layer of grey powdery ash, to do everything you can - write your representatives, clean up your own properties to create defensible space, hell, even protest - to work as one to overcome this threat, and ensure the future of the State of California.