Global Warming Did It!

Yesterday CBS aired an updated version of a 2007 “60 Minutes” story about the catastrophic forest fires that have become so common in the West. The story featured interviews with a federal official in charge of managing “hotshot” firefighting crews, and an interview with a professor at the University of Arizona. Both explained that these fires are beyond anything ever seen in the West, and both were quick to blame it all on global warming.

The story made only a very brief mention of the Forest Service’s 100-year policy of complete fire suppression, and quoted the federal official saying the result is “a huge buildup of fuel in these woods.” But then the focus of the discussion shifted entirely onto global warming, as if the Forest Service policy would have produced no such result if only global warming had not happened. It is a convenient way to avoid placing any blame on the overzealous environmental campaign to stop all cutting of trees in America. It is convenient – but wrong.

The fact is that the average temperature on Earth increased about 1 degree in the past century (as the “60 Minutes” story correctly pointed out), but that trend has not continued during the last decade. If the result of such minor warming had been to dry out the forests in the way these activists claim, there would also be dramatic decreases in recent snowfall. But that has not occurred. In fact, snowpack is back up – way up – across the Rocky Mountains in the past three years (along with colder temperatures). Yet we are not seeing huge increases in river flows, and that is for the exact same reason as the fires – too many trees.

Forest managers ended the historic role played by wildfires a century ago, but they also drastically reduced thinning and clearing about 20 years ago – about the same time these massive, catastrophic fires began. As a result, western forests that historically averaged 30-50 trees per acre now have more than 900 in many places. The trees are weaker, competing for water with a massive overgrowth of brush and grasses – all drier than normal. None of this is natural, nor are the resulting catastrophic fires.

To absolve forest managers and politicians (and ourselves) from any and all responsibility for these giant fires by blaming global warming may feel good, but don’t kid yourself. If every American were to stop traveling tomorrow, move into smaller houses without air conditioning, and get rid of their cars, the forests would still be overgrown tinderboxes ready to become towering infernos with the first lightning strike or errant cigarette. Nothing will change that until someone with a chain saw gets serious about thinning the forest back to a more natural condition.


4 responses to “Global Warming Did It!

  1. It isn’t global warming, it’s global ignorance. Either people or Nature or both are going to control the forces that guide the face of the earth. It was a partnership for many decades but we dropped our end. When we dropped our end, nature took up the slack.

    Now “they” say the fire in California was man caused. Of course it was, we dropped our part of the management job of the forests. No matter if it was lightning or a Marlboro, it was caused by man. Saving dead wood for long enough is like planning a fire.

    Unfortunately, Colorado seems to follow California in many ways. California burns now, Colorado is likely next. The same people who screwed up the partnership between man and nature in California retired and moved to Colorado.

    The new partnership between environmentalists and bark beetles will have their turn here soon, and it will likely make the current fire problem in California look like a training ground.

    The only justice here is that the same idiots who saved the dead wood and wouldn’t let trees be cut built homes in the forest…

  2. Greg you are spot on in your analysis and commentary. I am a believer in freedom of choice, but along with that freedom lies a responsibility. The are an increasing number homes being built in forested areas that are difficult to defend in the event of wild fires in the west. In fact in our little community of homes in the Genesee area west of Denver, the local fire officials have a map identifying clusters of homes that will be vigorously defended, and those that will not due to the extent of fire mitigation by the home owner. This risk is only now being increasingly reflected in the price of home owners insurance as underwriters are personally inspecting homes in high risk locations. Forest mismanagement has resulted in the mispricing of fire risk of homes located in forested areas.

  3. Greg you couldn’t be more spot on. It basically comes down to a simple choice; do we want the forests to burn down or do we want manage them through responsible timber harvesting? Those are the only two realistic choices because we have interrupted nature’s cycle with unnatural fire suppresion.

    A secondary note, a true environmentalist would favor the controlled and managed harvesting of timber within our borders. The need for wood products exists regardless of any other considerations. If we stop timber harvesting here we are forced to get wood products from other countries where timber harvesting procedures are much less sustainable and extremely damaging to the environment.

  4. Greg,

    Absolutely correct! The question is when will we start tackling the real science illiteracy that, like the overgrown vegetation, fuels the rapid spread of such notions.

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