Firefighters spent much of the past week battling the largest wildfire in California history, but an environmental policy expert says things are not getting worse because of climate change but because California is dry and liberal forest policies are making fires bigger, making the air quality worse, and putting lives and homes in danger.
Earlier this week, California officials declared the Mendocino Complex fire the largest in state history, responsible for charring tens of thousands of acres. Other fires threaten lives and property elsewhere in the state.
Environmental activists claim that human activity is leading to a more volatile climate that makes hurricanes more intense, heatwaves and droughts more intense and snowfalls deeper.
But what do the facts show?
“Climate does play a role in all of this, but not in a way that environmentalists would have you believe,” said Bonner Cohen, a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.
Cohen says the California climate is always conducive for wildfires.
“The climate in California is arid. It always has been and always will be. At times it is subject to drought and sometimes even extreme droughts. California has recently recovered from an extreme drought,” said Cohen, noting the drought was rated the eighth worst in the past century.
But Cohen says the arid nature of the state is only one major factor in the huge fires.
“This dry climate is exacerbated by strong winds. There are strong winds in southern California – the infamous Santa Anna winds – and strong winds in Northern California. It is not uncommon for these winds to gust up to 60 or 70 miles per hour,” said Cohen.
He also points out the fires find plenty of additional fuel thanks to counterproductive environmental policies.
“California has a lot of public land, federal land and state land, and there are strict restrictions on a lot of that regarding logging and even removal of dead and diseased trees.
“You have tinderboxes brought to you courtesy of either the federal government, or the state government, or – tragically in some cases – both,” said Cohen.
Cohen adds that by bending over backwards on behalf of the environment, liberals are actually harming it.
“Fires are actually a normal and perfectly healthy way of dealing with overgrown forests, but when those forests are mismanaged as U.S. Forest Service land has been mismanaged, not for years but for decades with overgrown forests, these forests are an open invitation to the tragic wildfires that we’re seeing here now,” said Cohen.
The impact is not limited to the forests. California’s already fragile air quality also suffers.
“You can tighten up the Clean Air act as much as you wish, but once you have these forest fires taking off the way they are out West, the quality of air suffers. It is absolutely filthy. You would think environmentalists would be deeply disturbed by this. As a matter of fact, they show no signs of doing so whatsoever,” said Cohen.
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Cohen says liberal policies are also why we see families and homes devastated in these fires. Cohen says liberal policies consistently drive the cost of living higher and higher in big cities from San Francisco to Los Angeles to San Diego. That forces middle class families into areas of the state far more prone to the fires.
According to Cohen, the Healthy Forest Initiative in the George W. Bush administration helped to move things in the right direction by allowing some thinning of forests on federal lands, but he says reforms need to go further.
“[They need to] make it easier for Forest Service personnel to thin trees that they know should be removed so that when the next wildfire comes along it will not enter a tinderbox and devastate thousands upon thousands of acres of land,” said Cohen.
As for the environmentalists, Cohen says they won’t allow any common-sense intervention in the forests, despite the impact fires are having on the air and land.
“Their reaction is very simple. Leave it alone. Don’t harm nature. Don’t interfere. Let nature take its course. That’s as far as they are willing to go.
“It’s an interesting way of looking at the world, in which you place a higher value on a nature that really doesn’t exist in a way in which they mean it at the expense of human beings who are caught up in the grotesque mismanagement of nature,” said Cohen.