California wildfires are the result of EPA policy to ‘let nature take its course’ | Don Brunell

Once again, dozens of wildfires are raging across California, reducing entire forests to cinders and displacing thousands of families.

Once again, dozens of wildfires are raging across California, reducing entire forests to cinders and displacing thousands of families. As they burn, these fires pump millions of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) —declared by the federal Environmental Protection Agency as a dangerous pollutant — into the air.

Ironically, this environmental and human devastation is due in part to federal environmental policies.

For decades, federal forest management policy has been, in effect, not to manage forests. Because of pressure from environmental groups, many federal and state forests are off limits to harvest and even to “housekeeping” activities, such as thinning, clearing undergrowth and removing dead and diseased trees. The philosophy is, let nature take its course.

Unfortunately, nature cleans its house with fire. Undergrowth and diseased trees provide the fuel; lightning or the errant camper provides the spark.

The West and Pacific Northwest are blessed with vast forestlands that, if managed to keep green and growing, can be our most potent weapon in reducing greenhouse gases. Trees absorb and storeCO2 and emit life-giving oxygen. Young growing trees absorb the most CO2 and produce the most oxygen.

But when they burn, these same trees release their stored CO2, choking the skies with smoke and polluting the air with millions of tons of greenhouse gases. Researchers estimate that the CO2 emitted by a single California wildfire in one week is equivalent to 25 percent of the monthly emissions from all fossil fuel burning throughout the state.

The study, conducted by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Colorado at Boulder estimates that U.S. fires release about 290 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, the equivalent of 4 to 6 percent of the nation’s CO2 emissions from all fossil fuel burning.

Think about it. American taxpayers are spending billions of dollars to protect air quality, yet misguided federal forest policies can wipe out much of that benefit in a few weeks.

President George W. Bush tried to address the situation with his Healthy Forests initiative, which put people to work clearing brush and salvaging diseased trees while bringing in income from salvage logging companies. Unfortunately, the effort was stopped in its tracks by environmentalists.

While a hands-off attitude may be popular in some environmental circles, history has shown the consequences of that policy. In 1988, the U.S. Parks Service allowed several smaller forest fires in Yellowstone National Park to come together and engulf 800,000 acres, nearly incinerating the historic Old Faithful Inn.

The consequences of a massive wildfire today would be catastrophic. A century ago, the Big Burn scorched three million acres of forests from Boise into Canada and from east of Spokane to west of Missoula. Today, more than 13 million people live in that area.

Even our firefighters are being handcuffed in the name of environmental protection. Recently, a federal judge rejected the way the U.S. Forest Service uses fire retardant to fight wildfires because it couldn’t ensure that the retardant wouldn’t harm threatened and endangered species. The judge did not address the harm a raging inferno would cause to those same animals.

One has only to watch the nightly news to see the devastation caused by wildfires. Add to that the human and economic cost to battle the fires and the environmental degradation that results.

Congress and the President must restore sanity and common sense to our federal forest management policy. Sensible management, clearing dead and diseased trees and reducing underbrush is a much more responsible policy than “burn, baby, burn.”

Don Brunell is the president of the Association of Washington Business.

More in Opinion

State Dems may abandon caucus chaos in time for 2020

Washington also is considering becoming more significant by moving its primary to early March.

The four cornerstones of arguing irrationally

Don’t get caught up in the techniques people use to ignore rational arguments.

A taste of Krain history, from its dive-bar days

I first went in the place one winter’s evening when I was 8 or 9 years old.

Supreme Court resets the playing field

The ruling on the Masterpiece Bakery v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case wasn’t a win for the right or a loss for the left; it’s a chance to do things right the second time around.

Supreme Court ruling shows sanity, moderation

The 14th Amendment equal protection clause does not negate the First Amendment religious freedom clause.

Initiative signatures are the new greenbacks

As of Wednesday, June 6, petitions for four statewide initiatives were getting circulated.

Trump supporters see the president doing ‘God’s will on Earth’

Why did Truman recognize Israel so quickly and why do we care about modern Israel, enough to bring the ire of the Muslim world down upon us?

Eyman risking retirement funds on car tab initiative

Will the $500,000 investment be enough to get the initiative on a ballot?

U.S. isn’t the only nation flirting with trade wars

There’s another brewing between Alberta and British Columbia.

I wish I could stay in Enumclaw | Guest Columnist

There is a kindness and decency and desire to be a community in Enumclaw.

We live in frightening times

Our country is being torn apart from limb to limb, coast to coast.

Voting habits tied to feelings of security

The dangers of authoritarianism are a far greater threat to the nation than seeing rising racial equality and religious diversity brought about by immigration.