Don’t Feed the Dragon: Trump Tweets, Forest Fires and a Few Responses

Cranston Fire Nighttime

Forest fires that kill people and destroy communities are bad. Simply and absolutely. What interests me is watching the Trump/California blame game and how it’s covered. In case you haven’t been following this, President Trump said that poor State forest management practices are at least partially to blame. Here’s the argument as depicted by the WaPo:

President Trump has alternated between offering sympathy for displaced people and firefighters, and lashing out at California’s leaders over what he deemed poor forest management.

“With proper Forest Management, we can stop the devastation constantly going on in California. Get Smart!” he tweeted Sunday morning, echoing a refrain that he has frequently leveled at California officials and threatening to withhold federal money.

Officials shot back that increasingly destructive fires are a result of global warming, which dry out vegetation and turn large swaths of grassland into a tinderbox.

A spokesman for Gov. Brown said that more federal forest land has burned than state land, adding that the state has expanded its forestry budget while the Trump administration has cut its budget for forest services.

My question: why respond to/take seriously Trump tweets? All of us know “it’s more complicated than either side depicts.” In fact, are “sides” a function of Trump or a function of media coverage?

Also, I think we need to look at when forest fires are blamed on climate change and what happens when it is framed that way. It sounds like “there’s nothing we can do about it except ideas for decreasing climate change.” Which seems kind of silly since we had wildfires and fuel treatments and prescribed burning way before climate change was an issue. And it’s confusing too because if people want to sue power companies over sparks starting wildfires, or people are in jail for starting wildfires, should they get a pass because it’s really climate change? How best to apportion blame, and what might be the results?

As to climate, I like to do a thought experiment. What if it was 0%, 50%, or 100% caused by humans? Would that matter? Even if it were 100% caused by humans (which we absolutely don’t and can’t know), and we stopped doing all the carbon, land use and so on activities, it would not turn around on a dime. Which means. regardless of our beliefs and/or uncertainties, that we are stuck with the current situation, and we need to work with each other to do what needs to be done to protect communities. Trump isn’t helping, but let’s not feed the dragon.

In my Twitter feed, I ran across a few tweets from this very reasonable sounding Canadian fellow, good for an outside- US perspective. Here’s a link. He has a series of tweets, hope you can read all of them.

Finally, Stephen Pyne has a piece in Slate.. here.. Worth reading, here’s a quote:

“Too often the extremes command attention: the threat of bad fires to cities, the need to restore good fire in wilderness. It’s the intermediate buffer lands that offer an alternative. Here are occasions for active management, not to serve crude commodity production but to enhance ecological goods and services.” I don’t know exactly what he mean by “crude commodity production” perhaps as opposed to “sophisticated commodity production”?
Are fuel treatments to change fire behavior an “ecological good and service” when protecting communities? Or maybe just when protecting species habitat? I guess I can’t see the forest for the abstractions…

23 thoughts on “Don’t Feed the Dragon: Trump Tweets, Forest Fires and a Few Responses”

  1. I think that what is most apparent, and surprisingly visible, is the ignorance of forest realities and ownership patterns. It used to be that the majority of people in the middle didn’t state their opinions about forests, trusting the Federal Agencies to do the right things. Now, in this era of ‘the ends justify the means’, the public is being fed misinformation, from both extremes. One side believes one set of lies, and the opposing side has their set. They truly believe the lies as fact, and no one can tell them any different. Both sides also have their conspiracy theories, to fill in the holes of their narratives. If it wasn’t so important to have fact and truth guiding our decisions, it would be comical. (Actually, it IS comical regarding topics like vaccinations, Reptilians, chemtrails and flat Earthers. There are some similarities with forest management, sometimes. Check out the USFS Facebook page)

    America simply isn’t ‘progressive’ enough to accept apolitical forest management. Instead, everything is politicized and labeled to fit their narrow views.

  2. I saw this posted on the Facebook page of the California Chaparral Institute, who’s director Richard Halsey sometimes comments on our blog.

    “Via Zeke Lunder:

    The #campfire started in Pulga and was pushed upslope by strong NE winds. Cresting the first hill, it rained embers across large areas of the Concow Basin. Concow burned hot in 2008 and has a lot of dense brush and grasslands which were very dry, and quickly spread the fire downwind.”

    • This is an excellent view, consistent with how I looked at it. One other thing I noticed in videos is that the needles are all still on the pines. Hard to say what color they are but, it appears that embers jumped from house-to-house-to-house. There’s a few black sticks. It will be interesting to compare before and after pics.

      Often times, it’s hard to even guess what maybe Trump was trying to say in his tweets. At least someone convinced him to remove the original tweet. It’s Congress who has to act, here. Throwing money at the problem doesn’t fix the many related barriers to meaningful active management.

  3. Also, the (“environmental terrorists?” “extremists?”) hard-working, brave firefighters of the Pasadena (CA) Fire Association had this response to Trump’s original treat blaming (yet again) wildfires in California on “gross mismanagement of forests.”

    Also, I’d be curious to know all about the “gross mismanagement of forests” that has taken place in Malibu, California and just what type of public lands logging would be needed to stop or prevent a wildfire like this. Reports are that some of this weekend’s California wildfires were pushed by 70 mph winds.

  4. My frustration over the past year while trying to create defensible space around the house on my small bit of acreage is the obstructive rules the state has. They care more about defending potential endangered species or wildlife trails or seasonal creeks than is appropriate in this drought.

    • Hi Sue, Thanks for sharing your perspective. What state or area do you live in? I’d be curious to know specifically what types of “obstructive rules the state has” to protect “potential endangered species or wildlife trails” that are supposedly preventing you from creating defensible space around your house.

      • Oh, thank you for asking! I’m in Pollock Pines CA with a total of 20+ acres. I have a lot of huge trees that have a lot of dead branches and needles. Paying someone to simply remove a couple dozen or more 200ft trees would be too expensive. And would take huge equipment. Trying to sell them for lumber puts me in the category of requiring a Timber Harvest Plan from a Forester. There are too few Foresters these days, a THP would cost about $15k. That’s the rub: the Timber Harvest Plan. Getting one will take months and months even if I could (a) front the cost, (b) find a lumber company willing to purchase/harvest the trees and have there be enough profit to reimburse for the THP. And, lastly; the THP is that which the authorities require to protect the environment, etc.
        I’m no expert and I may have any bit of this info wrong. Perhaps I shouldn’t point any fingers (there’s plenty enough of that!) I’m just a homeowner choking on the smoke, mourning with my fellow Californians and freaking out about the woods outside my windows.
        If you’re going to fuss at me, save it. I’m already in tears.

        • Hi Sue, I used to live in Pollock Pines (Sierra Springs) so I know how beautiful and scarily dense the stands of trees are. Back in the 90’s I remember planes flying low over my house to get water from Jenkinson Lake for fires.

          Have you spoken with the Fire Wise Council in El Dorado County? What did they have to say?
          Other parts of the country have grants to help cover fuels reduction by homeowners, under something like “CWPP” grants.

          • No, I did not know there were other options. I’ll check into that.
            I learned of this site from my friends and next door neighbors, Betsy and Bob. Betsy said you really know your stuff. They are part of a group of us with small parcels who hope to collectively interest a lumber company to come take some trees away.
            RE: the various dialogs here, I applaud the clear headed comments and lack of finger pointing, hysterical rhetoric.

            • Well, I used to know some stuff. Among all of us contributors and commenters, though, we know a lot of stuff.. please say hi to Bob and Betsy for me!

        • Sue, I hope you have gotten some advice for what would be considered “defensible space” for your home; it shouldn’t involve the whole 20 acres, and may be less expensive than you think. If California law prohibits sale of trees removed to create defensible space (without an expensive THP), then the laws are working against each other and a fix is needed. (I suspect the legislature is going to be open to new ideas after this year.)

          • Thanks for the info! I do know about defensible space around the house; last year our homeowners insurance carrier dropped us due to the fire danger. As are nearly all carriers except Cal Fair Plan, they are backing off Pollock Pines. All the neighbors I’ve spoken to have either been cancelled or are non-renewable. We’ve all been removing fuel 150 feet from the houses.
            But! We’re on a ridge at the top of a canyon of dense near-dead trees. Imagine a chimney coated with creosote!
            Each time the Red Alerts warn me of wind and lack of humidity conditions, or PGE warns of a proactive outage, I leave the area. Not everyone can do that. I’ve packed my car several times (I’m two miles from the recent 8 Mile Road Fire next to Hwy 50) I’ve seen the huge planes dropping fire retardant fly over. All that to say, I’m trying to be proactive!
            I really have no expertise to share but I appreciate the opportunity to add my Everyman perspective.

  5. Sharon: “My question: why respond to/take seriously Trump tweets? All of us know “it’s more complicated than either side depicts.””

    Well, that’s always a good question to ask since he has demonstrated an appalling lack of knowledge or interest in the facts of about most things he tweets about. But he influences others who don’t know what we know, and he needs to be fact-checked. Since the State of California was individually singled out for criticism, they certainly need to defend themselves.

    Sharon: “It sounds like “there’s nothing we can do about it except ideas for decreasing climate change.”” I didn’t read it that way at all. They are just telling him it’s a lot more complicated than he understands because of global warming (which he doesn’t understand).

    • Jon,no, they didn’t say (based on this story) that “fire suppression over the last century and a warming climate and more houses gives us a difficult situation that we all need to work together to fix.” I think they could have fit that in a Tweet.

      What I quoted was “Officials shot back that increasingly destructive fires are a result of global warming”.. I responded to that because it’s actually not entirely true either. Of course, nuances are lost in tweeting. More pragmatically, anyone who unilaterally believes Trump tweets will not be put off by contrary tweets. My strategy is that every time he is unreasonable and reflexive, you (the attacked) respond reasonably and unemotionally and statesperson-like. I would say they go low, you go high, but I think someone else already said that.

      • But what you quoted was “as depicted by the WaPo” (not a tweet), so we don’t really know. My guess is the underlying sentiment was “we’re doing our part, why don’t you do yours” (to address global warming).

        • Sorry Jon, I assumed it was a Tweet by someone. I don’t know where else the WaPo would get the info in such a short timeframe (they didn’t specify a spokesperson) so I assumed, and you know what they say about assumptions ;).

  6. Mismanagement isn’t to blame for California wildfires, scientists say, bucking Trump (LINK)

    University of Utah fire scientist Philip Dennison said that researchers know that mismanagement isn’t to blame because some of the same areas now burning were charred in 2005 and 2008.

    They aren’t “fuel-choked closed-canopy forests,” Dennison said.

    In those earlier fires, Paradise was threatened but escaped major damage, he said. In the current blazes, the town was virtually destroyed.

    The other major fire, in Southern California, burned through shrub land, not forest, Dennison said.

    “It’s not about forest management,” he said. “These aren’t forests.”

  7. I’m happy that so many residents are finally…… finally, discovering that wildfires are NOT “natural and beneficial”, these days. I’m sure there are still some people who will parrot that idea, even after the last 6 years of intense wildfires.

  8. Whether wildfires are “natural” or “beneficial” is contextual. A fire started by a powerline in a town is neither, but many are both. “Even after the last 6 years of intense wildfires.”

    • Well, since 84% of all US wildfires are human caused, those aren’t “natural”. So, of those 16%, how many of those are “natural”, burning in unnatural, man-impacted forests? Then, out of those, how many are actually “beneficial”, and to what are the fires benefiting? It appears to me that a teeny, tiny fraction of wildfires are actually “natural and beneficial”. I’m quite sure that in many of those, humans were ‘inconvenienced’ or impacted by fires that are said to be “natural and beneficial”. How much did those “natural and beneficial” fires costs us humans, in currency, as well as suffering?

    • John Haber – “Whether wildfires are “natural” or “beneficial” is contextual. A fire started by a powerline in a town is neither, but many are both. “Even after the last 6 years of intense wildfires.”

      So does this mean that companies like PG&E, SCE & SDG&E should be let off the hook for any responsibility because the wildfire is neither natural nor human caused, but maybe extraterrestrials for which we have no control over ? If humans have no control over power lines, then who or what does ?

      Larry Harrell – “Well, since 84% of all US wildfires are human caused, those aren’t “natural”.

      In California and the Pacific Northwest they say it’s 90%. Many on these boards believe humans are no longer to be considered exceptional, indeed we are now no better than animals. However we’ve also discovered that rivers, forests and the earth are all persons. Therefore human caused fires are natural events. Apparently the Cranston photo at the top of this photo which happened back in July was a natural occurence caused by an animal (arsonist Brandon N. McGlover) doing whatever came natural. He was simply going by instinct and free-will had zero to do with it.

      Larry Harrell – “How much did those “natural and beneficial” fires costs us humans, in currency, as well as suffering?”

      Well considering we now know from the Credentialed that these wildfires should to be viewed as a natural events, perhaps this was merely the earth ridding itself of the human plague as a well known & much worshipped nature celebrity star, David Attenborough, penned not too long ago.

      Of course this is all sarcasm, but always illustrate absurdity with absurdity.

  9. Nobody is really listening to what Sue is telling us. I lived and worked in the woods in California for many years, ’76 thru ’87. During that time I witnessed the California Department of Forestry go from rubber stamping harvest plans to making it very difficult for landowners to do anything. This happened because the laws were changed. Now who do you all suppose lobbied for for those changes? It wasn’t the timber companies I can assure you. It was their Nemesis. Someone like Sue that owns 20 acres shouldn’t be required to jump through all of these expensive hoops. Hire a professional forester? Ridiculous. The state should be encouraging landowners and advising them for free, not standing around watching their homes burn down. Maybe in the total this is the kind of thing that Trump was getting at. You have to know that industry has probably been complaining to his administration. He isn’t a woods guy so, it is understandable that he would say something that sounds out of context, or even ignorant. The sad and typical thing is that it takes something like Paradise to cause change. The home that my parents lived in before they died is gone.

  10. Pat and Sue, if you are interested you might find out how the new legislation and/or executive order have streamlined forest practice regulations on private (what we used to call non-industrial) forest land. How that’s actually working – it hasn’t probably gotten too far but it would be good to know what has changed. Here’s a link to some info about the legislation and the executive order.
    And get back to us via comment or guest post. We are Citizen Journalism here.


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