Wildfires to get worse thanks to Clinton policies, says fire expert who predicted uptick in blazes
’30 years later, they are still ignoring it’
September 13, 2020
Former President Bill Clinton made a significant change to federal land management nearly 30 years ago that created the conditions necessary for massive wildfires to consume portions of the West Coast, according to one fire expert who predicted the problem years ago.
Shortly before leaving office in 2001, Clinton limited the ability of the United States Forest Service to thin out a dense thicket of foliage and downed trees on federal land to bring the West into a pristine state, Bob Zybach, an experienced forester with a PhD in environmental science, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. The former president’s decision created a ticking time bomb, Zybach argues.
“If you don’t start managing these forests, then they are going to start burning up. Thirty years later, they are still ignoring it,” said Zybach, who spent more than 20 years as a reforestation contractor. He was referring to warnings he made years ago, telling officials that warding off prescribed burns in Oregon and California creates kindling fuelling fires.
Such rules make it more difficult to deploy prescribed burns, which are controlled burns designed to cull all of the underbrush in forests to lessen the chance of massive fires, Zybach noted. Years of keeping these areas in their natural state result in dead trees and dried organic material settling on the forest floor, which become like matchsticks soaked in jet fuel during dry seasons, he said. …
Shortly before leaving office, Clinton introduced the Roadless Rule that restricted the use of existing roads and construction of new roads on 49 million acres of National Forest, making it difficult for officials to scan the land for the kind of kindling that fuels massive conflagrations.
The move was part of the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP), a resolution adopted by Clinton in 1994 to protect forests from being over-logged.
Ten years before Clinton’s rule, the Fish and Wildlife Service placed the northern spotted owl on the Endangered Species Act, forcing the Forest Service to adopt a new policy that resulted in a greater reduction in timber harvests. The amount of timber removed from federal lands plummeted, according to data accumulated in 2015 by the Reason Foundation.
An average of 10 million feet of timber was removed each year from Forest Service land between 1960 and 1990, the data show. Those numbers dropped between 1991 and 2000 and continued dropping — an average of only 2.1 billion feet of timber was removed from the land between 2000 and 2013, according to the data. That’s an 80% decline.
Fire Experts Agree: Prescribed Burns Are Critical
Overzealous fire suppression across California are helping to build up wildland fuels, which contribute to wildfires, according to Tim Ingalsbee, a fire ecologist who began a career in the 1980s as a wildland firefighter. The solution is “to get good fire on the ground and whittle down some of that fuel load,” he told ProPublica in August.
“It’s just … well … it’s horrible. Horrible to see this happening when the science is so clear and has been clear for years. I suffer from Cassandra syndrome,” Ingalsbee said, referring to the Cassandra Syndrome, a Greek metaphor people use when they believe their valid warnings are not heeded.
“Every year I warn people: Disaster’s coming. We got to change. And no one listens. And then it happens.” …
Nearly 20 million acres in California, or an area about the size of Maine, will need to experience controlled burns to limit catastrophic wildfires, a January study from Nature Sustainability found. …
Former President Barack Obama suggested in a tweet Thursday that California’s wildfires are a result of climate change. …
Zybach is not convinced. “The lack of active land management is almost 100 percent the cause,” he told the DCNF, noting that climate change has almost nothing to do with fire kindling gathering across the forest floors. Other researchers share his skepticism.
“Global warming may contribute slightly, but the key factors are mismanaged forests, years of fire suppression, increased population, people living where they should not, invasive flammable species, and the fact that California has always had fire,” University of Washington climate scientist Cliff Mass told TheDCNF in 2018.