California wildfires and environmental radicalism
Interior secretary Ryan Zinke on Breitbart News Sunday blamed California's 7,421 wildfires that have burned 1,665,746 acres, destroyed 30,000 structures, and killed at least 82 individuals and six firefighters so far in 2018. Zinke stressed: "I will lay this on the foot of those environmental radicals that have prevented us from managing the forests for years. And you know what? This is on them."
Secretary Zinke's remarks came the day after President Trump toured the horrific devastation in Paradise, California on Saturday. Trump stated that countries like Finland do a better job managing forests to prevent and mitigate fires. The president stated: "You've got to take care of the floors. You know, the floors of the forest, very important."
The Trump administration's coordinated statements signal the launch of an initiative to contain the skyrocketing federal costs to fight wildfires that topped a record $1.1 billion for the 2017 fiscal year ending September 30, according to the U.S. government's Wildland Fire Annual Report. Costs were up by 49 percent from the prior year and 94 percent more than fiscal 2009, the last year before the Obama administration.
California governor Jerry Brown's administration published its Fourth Climate Change Assessment in late August that blamed the threat of a 77-percent increase in wildfires and 18-percent higher insurance costs on "greenhouse gas emissions." Warning of a "new normal" for wildfires, Brown advocated federal responsibility for climate change.
Although the number of fires for FY2017, the last year before the Trump administration, were up by just 5.5 percent, the total area burned spiked by 82 percent to 10 million acres. Federal wildfire costs also spiked by 49 percent from the prior year, and up by 94 percent more than FY2009, the last year before the Obama administration.
California wildfire losses in 2017 hit a record of $13 billion, according to AON Benfield's "Weather, Climate & Catastrophe Insight" 2017 annual report. But catastrophe risk-modeling specialist RMS just estimated that losses from California's still burning Camp and Woolsey fires could reach as much as $13 billion. Total 2018 annual financial losses from California wildfires will be a record that could reach $20 billion.
The U.S. Weather Service's footprint map visualizes the repetitive nature of California wildfires since 1910. Although RMS found that over two decades there was about a 40 percent increase in housing added to the high wildfire risk of fire Wildland Urban Interface and an increase in temperatures, there was also a major "change in firefighting philosophy in the early 2000s to favor aggressive firefighting over aggressive control of flammable vegetation."
Forbes reported that before the 1850s, the Native American population shaped California's landscape every spring with low-intensity fires to encourage grasslands and boost the game animal population. Sierra landscape photos from 1849 record open fields of grass with isolated pine stands and scattered oak trees. Pine tree branches start about 20 feet up due to lower branches having been burned off.
California forestry management drastically changed after 1994, after the Clinton administration adopted the Northwest Forest Plan covering 4.5 million acres of Northern California national forests that prioritized protecting endangered species, water quality, and old-growth forests. The new rules increased timber logging industry costs and limited the annual harvests to smaller and often uneconomical-sized trees.
With 60 percent of California forest land owned by the federal government, logging permits shriveled and forest tree spacing became much denser. As private logging roads that served as national forest fire breaks were abandoned and covered by brush, annual wildfires became bigger, hotter, and more remote from firefighter access.
The Bush administration tried to reverse the Clinton policies in 2004, but environmentalists used lawsuits to stop the effort. The Obama administration reinstated the Clinton anti-logging policies and supported the adoption of Gov. Brown's California Forest Practice Rules 2015 that led to more logging road abandonments.
Brown warned on August 1 that California spent almost a third of the state's $442.8-million budget for emergencies and its "e-budget" could quickly run dry.
Having suffered many more highly destructive wildfires and with 13,000 firefighters battling nine major forest fires on Thanksgiving Day, Gov. Brown would like to blame global climate change and have the federal government pay for California wildfires.