“You might like my latest cartoon” came the message from my political cartoonist acquaintance. I’ve been following him for some time and while our politics rarely line up I at least appreciate his passion and willingness to push buttons and boundaries.
But this time he really pushed one of my buttons.
I’ve been standing on the sidelines and avoiding conversations about the wildfires in California. The few places I did comment with my knowledge and opinions didn’t seem to get anywhere. People have decided to look at the whole situation through whatever political worldview they have chosen for themselves. Even the wildland firefighter community on social media has collapsed into bomb lobbing and insult hurling.
Everyone wants to blame someone.
My cartoonist friend (and the environmentalists) want to blame climate change (and the Republicans). Yes, weather does play a major role in the spread of fire, and in the availability and moisture level of fuels. But just like you can’t blame an ice storm for car accidents, you can’t blame the climate for wildfires.
People are the cause of accidents, whether they be car crashes in an ice storm or devastating wildfires in a drought. The ice did not make the driver crash, the driver’s response to the icy road caused his accident. The climate did not create the devastation, the policies and practices of people in response to the climate created the devastation.
When Trump blamed the fires on lack of management he wasn’t entirely wrong. There is horrible management going on in many of the forests around the country. Much of that mismanagement is concentrated in the western states, particularly the three bordering the Pacific ocean.
Environmental groups, loggers, ranchers, and developers have been knocking heads in that part of the country for decades. The lobbyists for these parties have all gone to the Federal government to get their way in the land management game. Full fire suppression, a lack of timber thinning, a lack of controlled burning, and an explosion of building in the wildland interface are all polices and practices tied to these groups and their lobbying one way or another.
But just like you can’t blame the weather, you can’t blame mismanagement. Because mismanagement has a root.
Blame lies squarely on the concept of Federal ownership and management of land. The Federal government was not created to do such a thing and is not capable of doing it effectively.
Better put: land is best managed by the people who own it and live on it. Those are the people with real skin in the game.
When land belongs to everyone it becomes fodder for political ends. Public ownership means that I get to call the shots for land thousands of miles away from me. This is usually land I will probably never see, and ecosystems which I may never study or understand.
But locals know the land. Locals know what happens when you manage the forest one way or another. They live in it and derive their economic well-being from it. They have a vital interest in making the whole thing work. Mismanagement has direct and dire consequences upon them.
Ironically it is often these locals who lobby the Federal government to do what they wish because they don’t get along with the other locals. The ranchers don’t like the loggers, the loggers don’t get along with the recreation special interests, and no one gets along with the environmentalists. And no one gets along with the Fed either, because while trying to please everyone, the Fed enacts and carries out policies which please no one.
So while the ranchers are happy to have cheap (ie Federally subsidized) open range grazing land they are not happy with the fences the environmentalists want put up to protect the watershed. And the loggers are content to log land managed by their Fed friends but they are not happy with the ranchers for burning up timber while trying to improve grazing conditions. The environmentalists are happy to have a giant monopolized force machine to restrict all human action on nature but they are not happy with… well… anyone.
We should get the Federal government out of the business of land management and turn it all over to the locals. Let the local loggers and the local Hippies and the local ranchers sort it out amongst themselves.
At least then when it burns out of control we know who to blame.
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