Wild Fires, Land Use, and Politics in California

 

By Richard Eber, California Political News and Views 

The “Left Coast”, as it is known, has always prided itself for being different from the rest of the other 49 states.  It has brought us beatniks, free speech, The Summer of Love, legalizing weed and LGBT rights. Along with these social freedoms, it has also come to symbolize political change.

In recent years what was previously known to be “Reagan Country” has moved hard left.  Led by the Hollywood crowd and the ultra liberal contingent from San Francisco, progressive ideology from California has taken over the Democratic Party. Their crowning glory has been in the recent election winning all statewide offices and over 75% of the legislative seats.

Even more indicative of this slaughter is that once right wing Orange Country is now devoid of any Republican representation in Congress. These startling results more resemble the old Soviet Union than a functioning democracy.  Now comes the hard part.  It is now time to govern.

Among the most perplexing area that Gavin Newsom must deal with is environmental policy.  It encompasses a wide number if areas including a laissez-faire attitude towards maintaining the forests. Present policy has virtually eliminating logging, clearing away old brush annually, and conducting needed controlled burns to prevent bigger fires.

In urban areas the costs of applying for permits to cut down trees for maintenance purposes are often too expensive for landowners to consider.  Politics have definitely taken over from practicality in managing California’s forests, parks, urban and suburban greenery.

When Donald Trump came to California to access damage from recent virulent forest fires, Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom were remarkably quiet when the President spoke about better forest management.  Although Trump was on the right track, his suggestion about “raking” was off base and was a distraction to the rest of his message.

However, these remarks did not take the state government off the hook.  Democrats heeding the advice of their environmentalist friends was a major reason for the intensity of the Camp Fire and others around the state.

The Governor has to live with the fact that in 2016 he vetoed Senate Bill 1463. This legislation was intended to give more latitude to local communities to cut underbrush and vegetation that threatened power lines and electrical utilities.  While Brown has recently used Executive Action to enact most of SB1463, critics claim his previous actions in playing politics contributed to the severity of recent wild fires.

It is not a coincidence the talk about blaming Global Warming and PG&E has quieted down of late.  Despite blowhards like Senator Jerry Hill (D- San Mateo) wanting to break up private utilities and have local communities take over this responsibility, reality has finally set in.  The California Way of Forest management needs to change pronto.

So what can be done to improve the condition of the forests and prevent recent occurrences such as the Santa Rosa, Clear Lake, Malibu, and of the course the Camp Fire near Chico? On the political front, we might consider stopping trying to attribute every act of nature from earthquakes to drought, floods, and fires to the actions of politicians from California to Washington D.C.

It makes as much sense blaming Donald Trump for every natural force majeure disaster as it does pointing fingers at Education Secretary Betsy De Vos for the low test scores of California students at the bottom 10% of the entire country. Similarly, placing the responsibility solely on the backs of PG&E, Jerry Brown, and the Legislature is equally absurd.

There is plenty of blame to go around.  Forest fires have no social conscience. They go as far as available wind and fuel can take them. Politics on both sides of the aisle have no business in forest management.

So what can be done to lessen the number and severity of wild fires in California?

  • Private Industrial Forest Lands: These are handled by each state through whatever Forest Practices they chose to regulate as the private owners decide whether to pursue timber production or development.  Each state’s geography and forest cover are different, thus they need to develop policies that are tailored to their specific environment. A “one size  fits all” approach simply does not work
  • Public Lands: Public forest land management is a real challenge because the objectives are different than those of private industrial owners.  Timber production is the not the primary goal despite the historic view of the USFS, the Forest Management Act of 1976 (NFMA) and the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act of 1960.
  • Private Development: Here is where the states and counties can do the most to limit the urban forest interface from the threat of fire.  These include zoning requirements and sitting rules for where dwellings and other structures and uses can be permitted and requiring fuel free vegetation zones around them. All of these regulations can keep fires limited and not intrude into developed areas.

On the political front we need to have balanced policies.  Harvesting trees from the forests is not evil by definition.  This process can create revenue to manage timber and wildlife resources. It can also thin forests of dangerous brush along with use of controlled burns.  We must look beyond tree-huggers who want to leave nature untouched and the Cruela De Ville types who wish to clear cut our forests for their short term gains.

Acting with the fairness of Solomon is difficult as in the recent past, those who do not triumph in land use cases, have often resorted to costly litigation to get their way.  In these instances, both sides have experienced victory and defeat.  History has proven the courts are not the best venue to determine where and how development  should  take place.

These are just some of the issues Gavin Newsom must face when he takes office in just a few weeks. Hopefully, he will rise above playing politics, even if it means displeasing some of the environmentalists who have contributed to his campaigns or the developers who have quietly funded Newsom during his political career.

This is a major undertaking for Newsom to deal with. Blaming Donald Trump or Global Warming are not enough to solve California complex forest management problems.  Perhaps even the Governor elect is cognizant of these hard facts as well.

With all due respect, The California Way for managing our forests must change.

Next week- Gavin Newsom facing  problems  of environmental laws on the state economy


Richard Eber studied journalism at the University of Oregon. He writes about politics, culture, education restaurants, and was former city and sports editor of UCSB Daily. Richard is president of Amerasa Rapid Transit, a specialized freight forwarder.


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2 Responses to Wild Fires, Land Use, and Politics in California

  1. C E Voigtsberger November 30, 2018 at 7:35 pm

    It would certainly lend more gravitas to Mr. Eber’s editorial if he had proofread it before posting. I find it hard to believe he was the editor of a college newspaper after reading his column. That speaks to the generally low level of education in California’s colleges.

    He uses a period after asking a rhetorical question. He misspells forest. The term is “blow hards,” not “blow hearts.” There are more, but those three are sufficient to illustrate my point.

    While I agree with the overall tenor of his editorial, it aggrieves me that my point of view is supported by such a poorly written piece..

    Reply

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