California can't see the forest for the (burning) trees
That old adage about missing the forest for the trees can apply to many things right now, but let's take it literally. California's forests (and everything else) are burning up rapidly. More rapidly than ever. CalFire says the five-year average of acreage burned is 795,512. So far in 2021, with at least a month, maybe two, to go in our typical fire season before we get any rain, we've lost 1,926,123 acres, already more than last year, when 1,789,174 burned.
Let's look at one typical example of why this has happened, with a bit of history for understanding it.
According to Wikipedia (not my go-to for info, usually, but for this, it works), Pacific Lumber Company (PALCO) filed for bankruptcy in 2007 and went out of business in 2008. It had been bought by Maxxam, Inc., a Texas company, in a hostile takeover completed in 1986. Here's a quote from the page:
The company maintains that it is still a sustainable operation, but its policies and practices bear little resemblance to those before 1986. 1999 saw the sale of thousands of acres of land to become the Headwaters Forest Reserve. In that agreement, strict rules were put into place requiring the company to manage its holdings under more-restrictive practices. This in part led PALCO to file for bankruptcy in January 2007. By late in 2008 The Pacific Lumber Company ceased to exist.
What happened to end PALCO? Start with Maxxam changing from a smart, effective sustainable growth policy, as practiced by the company since 1931, to clear-cutting to maximize yields. Sustainable yield logging meant they cut only a percentage of the mature trees in a stand, leaving the younger, vigorous trees to grow, seed, and replenish it. They managed the forest, in other words. Maxxam wanted money, and the easiest way was to clear-cut what they owned, irresponsibly, after selling off some of the forests to the state for parkland.
This type of deal, and its aftermath, was in part responsible for the rise of the environmental movement. The spotted owl was a most useful and famous bird back in 1990. Logging operations were summarily shut down to protect it. The movement grew exponentially once it discovered this means of getting what it wanted. It's ironic, really: the environmental movement grew to stop clear-cutting that was caused by a hostile takeover movement that was engendered by twisted government regulations. This is what has resulted in California burning.
PALCO and Maxxam were not alone:
"The hostile deals of the 1980s were made by people viewed as bust-up artists and speculators looking for short-term profit," said Robert Kindler, a partner at the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore who specializes in takeovers. "The deals today are strategically driven. Companies believe that if they can only achieve their goals through a hostile bid, they're willing to do it."
There are similar examples all over California, of companies that gave up sound practices for quick cash during the takeover frenzy of the 1980s. Everyone was horrified by rampant clear-cutting and the destruction of the forests, especially the redwoods. This made for a populace receptive to the alternative, and in came the steamroller of environmental radicalism. The lumber industry became a very bad bet financially.
What we've been left with is forests managed by bureaucrats who don't do forestry. I've mentioned before that Newsom's entire budget for brush clearing for the 2020–21 season was eliminated, in favor of adding the money to firefighting efforts. It would have been a drop in the bucket, really, as the problem of forests filled with dead trees, dead underbrush, and disease needs massive work. No state budget could really alleviate the problems causing the state to burn, although controlled burns of underbrush in damp weather, and the establishment of wide swaths of space for fire breaks, would obviously have helped mitigate the danger, and would have been a more effective use of funds, resulting in fewer fires to fight.
Once again, I find myself writing about things I have had to educate myself on, but it's not that hard to do. We need a government in the state that follows logical means to end the wholesale burning of our resources. We need to entice companies into our state, once again, to manage land and turn it back to being fruitful. They would clean up and replant trees where we've had burns; maintain healthy forests; and yes, they could resume the lumber industry in the state in a rational and sustainable manner.
We need to cooperatively set this up in a way that brings common sense to the table. A public-private partnership is the only viable route. The environmentalists need to have a voice, but a reasonable one. Sound practices, like those used by PALCO for 50 years, work. Those forests wouldn't have burned. It's not a short road to redeeming our environment, but we'll never get there if we don't start the journey.
We need leadership that can see through the underbrush and give our environment the attention it deserves. No environmentalist wants to live in a charred landscape, breathing unhealthy air. We need clean, healthy forests and it's not impossible to combine private and public efforts to regain them.
Or we can just leave Newsom in office and let it burn until there's nothing left at all. The one thing that is clear to me is that he hasn't got the brainpower to even imagine how to do the job. He must go! My vote is cast for Larry Elder, who seems to have a good grasp of reality, political savvy, and a lot of energy. If he can harness the Legislature to act in the people's interests, we might save our state.
Image: Fire in California. YouTube screen grab.
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