Monday, November 26, 2018

The Difference Between What is Going on Between Privately-Owned Forests and Government-Owned Forests, and the California Wildfires

By Richard A. Epstein

Over the past several weeks, California has been gripped by two of the most deadly forest fires in its history: the Camp Fire north of Sacramento and the Woolsey Fire in Ventura and Los Angeles counties. At last count, the toll of this disaster includes 76 dead and hundreds missing, the destruction of nearly 10,000 homes, and unhealthy air quality—now called the “dirtiest in the world”—throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, leading to the postponement of many local events, including moving the “Big Game” between Cal and Stanford from November 17 to December 1.
An enormous debate has developed over the cause of both fires.  Outgoing California Governor Jerry Brown has loudly proclaimed that climate change deniers are “definitely contributing” to the onslaught of new fires. But the best evidence says otherwise. Global temperature increase has been nil over the last 20 or so years, notwithstanding the increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Similarly, the repeated claims that we have had more unstable global climate patterns within that period is likewise false. According to Professor David B. South of Auburn University, “data suggest that extremely large megafires were four-times more common before 1940” than today, even though CO2 levels were lower.
Local variables have transformed California far more dramatically than climate change. Thanks to a large influx of new residents to California in recent years, new homes have been built close to the forests, as happened in the now torched town of Paradise, where the many new homes burnt to the ground were quite literally in harm’s way. On the forest floor, as explained in the Wall Street Journal, an accumulation of dead wood, coupled with too much new growth, stymied the efficient growth of healthy trees that are better able to resist fires.
Every bit as important is the major change in the philosophy of land use management. Much of the forest land in California is now owned by the state and federal government.  These lands have proved far more vulnerable to forest fires than properties owned by private groups.  Private lands are managed with the goals of conservation and production.  The management of public lands has been buffeted by legislative schemes driven by strong ideological commitments. Writing last year, Republican Congressman Tom McClintock noted that his air inspections revealed a distressing pattern: “The [privately] managed forests are green, healthy and thriving. The neglected federal forests are densely overcrowded and often scarred by fire because we can’t even salvage the fire-killed timber while it still has value.”
Read the rest here.


  1. I understand the argument being made by the author, but unless I missed it he never brings up the goals of government forestry vs. the goals of private forestry. The latter's goal's is the production of lumber, the former's is the preservation of habitat, etc. I am not saying governments' management of forests is being done correctly, or even well, but the author should have at least addressed how the different goals can affect or even justify the outcome or intensity of certain forest fires.

    1. The forestry department's ***Fire Suppression*** philosophy DISTORTS the habitat, rather than preserves it.

    2. The government protects forest just like they protect your freedom.

    3. The habitat functions with regular fires to clear the way for new life. The government suppresses the regular fires but then doesn't clear the way. Between harvesting trees and controlled burns the role of natural fire could be simulated in a manner that is better for people and better for the habitat than what government is doing.