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Incinerating America’s West

The massive western wildfires could have been avoided with intelligent forest management and less hysteria from the greens.

by
Robert Zubrin

Bio

July 3, 2012 - 12:02 am
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As I write these lines, vast wildfires are sweeping through my home state of Colorado and other areas of the American west. Last week, two of my employees had to leave work early to rush home to evacuate their families from imminent danger. Hundreds of houses have already been destroyed, and thousands of acres of trees incinerated, and unknown myriads of wild animals burned alive.

This disaster was predictable, and promises to get worse. Over the past decade, from British Columbia to New Mexico, the world’s most rapid deforestation has been underway in the North American west, with an average of nearly six million acres of forest lost per year — roughly double the three million acres per year rate in Brazil. The culprits here, however, have not been humans, but Western Pine Beetles, whose epidemic spread has turned over 60 million acres of formerly evergreen pine forests into dead red tinder, dry ammunition awaiting any spark to flare into catastrophe.

Yet while the global green movement has made a cause célèbre of the Amazon rain forest, they have done nothing to oppose those destroying our woods. Quite the contrary, they have been doing everything in their power to assist the wreckers. Indeed, over the past decade they have launched over a thousand lawsuits to block every attempt by the National Forest Service or others to take necessary counter measures.

There is one word that sums up the required course of action: logging. The beetles have been spreading uncontrollably because continuously connected and extremely thick forests densely populated with mature trees provide the ideal environment for their proliferation. Logging to thin the forests of mature trees that afford the beetles their favorite homes would slow their growth considerably. Logging out tree-free gaps between sections of forests would impose quarantine limits on the epidemic. Logging out trees that have already been killed would remove fuel for the otherwise inevitable conflagration.

These facts are well-known, and in many places there are those who would be delighted to do the logging (not everywhere, unfortunately, as the shutting down of 90% of the American timber industry by the environmentalists over the past two decades has forced many local sawmills to shut down) because pine beetle kill wood is fine timber. Indeed, its striking blue stain endows it with beauty prized by many carpenters for ornamental purposes. Yet time and again, plans to allow controlled preemptive logging to proceed have been blocked by spurious lawsuits from a multitude of self-described environmentalist groups, who additionally have used these suits to bilk the taxpayers of billions of dollars.

The arguments that the putative environmentalists have used to justify their campaign have been risible. For example, in a legal brief filed August 29, 2011, on behalf of itself and several other groups, the South Dakota-based Friends of the Norbeck said:

Yes, bark beetles are killing many trees, but that won’t necessarily lead to large fires. Even if it did, there’s not much humans can do directly to forests to influence fire risk, except to begin reducing human causes of climatic change. Logging the forest will not significantly influence fire spread, and removal of dead trees has many negative impacts on forest ecosystems.

While as recently as this May, the allied “Native Forest Council” issued a statement saying,

Insects, fire and disease are part of nature. They keep our Commonwealth of forests healthy and alive. They did so until the white man came and began liquidating them, using them up because they were there. Nature’s insect, fire and disease don’t destroy forests. Man, chainsaws and greed destroy forests. Man, scientists, even foresters have never grown a forest, let alone a “like kind or better” forest. They don’t know how. They never have and they never will.

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