Fire Fighting in the West

This article from PERC, recently published in the Wall Street Journal, reminds us that human intervention in nature—while generally abhorrent to the environmentalist—is often the best solution to tragic events, such as wildfires destroying communities.

An excerpt.

The early onset of wildfires in the drought-stricken West has state and federal fire officials concerned that this could be a record wildfire season. Wildfires near San Diego, Calif., and Flagstaff, Ariz., have already burned thousands of acres.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Interior spent $1.8 billion fighting fires in 2013. In the past, the funds to do this have come out of the basic budgets for forest management in these agencies, taking away from other activities. To remedy this, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2014, introduced in the House in February and its sister act introduced last year in the Senate, would make up to $2.7 billion each year available for “the emergency and unpredictable aspects of wildland firefighting including support, response, and emergency stabilization activities.”

Even with a specific fire-suppression budget, however, agencies on the front lines will be caught in a Catch-22. With homes, watersheds and vistas threatened, city, county, state and federal agencies have little choice but to throw everything they have into suppression, once again neglecting the basic forest management needed to clear the tinder buildup that fuels infernos.

The forest-management dilemma results, in part, from a mistaken belief held by some conservationists that nature, if left on its own, achieves a balance that is best for nature and for humans. Change brought on by humans is bad for all.

This mentality is also apparent in President Obama’s recent National Climate Assessment and in the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. Both suggest there is some optimal global temperature, without which irreversible changes will occur. They give the impression that living things are fragile and incapable of dealing with change. But the opposite is true—life is persistent, adaptable and adjustable.

Balance-of-nature ecology runs counter to modern “dynamic ecology,” which understands nature as a motion picture, so to speak, not a still life. In this never-ending movie, the environment has always changed and is always changing, and humans have always played a role. Before European settlement, most North American forests burned frequently. Even wetter, eastern forests often saw fires, often lighted by Native Americans opening the land for wildlife or agriculture. Ironically, the “forest primeval” that European settlers believed they moved into was, in part, the product of human action.

Retrieved June 25, 2014 from

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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