EarthX Forestry The Good, the Bad and the UglyBy: Amos S. Eno
In spring 2022 EarthX tv produced an exemplary four part film on western Forest fires entitled American Forest Fires. I worked for over a year to help produce the film with Matthew Spradlin. In April 2021 I did an interview with Daulton O’Neil to introduce the major thematic content of the film. In April 2022 we premiered the AFF film at the EarthX conference in Dallas with a panel of speakers who appeared in the film including Nadine Bailey, Bob Williams and Jim Peterson. My remarks follow…
Apparently, Ross came up with this title, but I have always been a fan of Clint Eastwood, so we will go with it. Kinky Friedman would kick off his show: I’m wired and inspired, let’s turn the damn thing loose. In reverse order: I am
going to start with:
Western forest fires is our focus, what are we dealing with here?
First, we are staring at a century of conscious policies creating an incendiary environment, such as the fire suppression on our western forests that dates back to Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, what you might call the “Smokey the Bear” syndrome, a hundred years of fire suppression. We also have the creeping effect of unconscious policies such as building homes for 5 decades in the wildland /urban interface. In addition, for 50 years, the effects of compounding environmental regulations have contributed to an annual firestorm.
This last issue is critical; we are confronting the legacy of 50 years of environmental activism that designated millions of acres of Wilderness areas, precluding all forest management- “untrammeled by hand of man”-in ecosystems that Amerindians burned for millennia, the addition of road less areas, and then the huge regulatory imprint of endangered species listings, such as the 1990 spotted owl listing which sounded the death knell for most small western forest products companies with the loss of 70,000 jobs in Pacific Northwest states.
On top of those regulatory burdens, you have the annual litigation challenges by the environmental community to prevent tree salvage and forest management using ESA, NEPA and California clean air regulations. This trifecta of environmental litigation leads to immobilization of forest management and the institutionalization of the philosophy that “You can’t cut a tree down”. This is not only occurring in the West but this attitude is imperiling the Pinelands of NJ where a catastrophic fire will smoke out both Philadelphia and NYC because of the buildup of fuels over the last 50 years in a forest that abuts our largest swath of suburbia. Make no mistake about the root cause of our firestorms - it is America’s environmental movement, and it is plum ugly!
What is the magnitude of what we face?
The problem is huge and will take decades to work out remedially. About half of the nations’ 885 million acres of forestlands requires restorative forest management. In terms of western forest fires: the ten-year average is 61,000 fires per year, and 6.7 million acres burned annually. Last year, in 2021, we experienced 58,985 wild fires in the west, which burned over 7 million acres. In 2020, we had 57,000 forest fires that burned 10.4 million acres. We had comparable fire years in 2018, 2015-2017, 2011-2012, 2004-2009, and 2000-2001. Recognize that smoke emanating from these fires is a major health threat and killer causing 15,000- 44,000 deaths. There are over 300 western counties in the west, which are seeing major smoke waves in the current and next few decades.
What about global warming which environmentalists say is the cause of these fires?
That is the favorite ploy of the environmental community; it is what I call “agenda annexation”-apply any natural disaster to your favorite cause as a propellant. Yes, we have a longer fire season and the West has experienced intermittent drought for several decades, but the cause of these fires is a multi-decadal growth in fuel loads. California has more than 90 million dead trees in its forests. To put out these fires we have to have forest management on a continental scale. The west has had periodic, long droughts for millennia. The Californian missions were abandoned after a 35-year drought in the 1600’s, and Californian natives burned their forests for thousands of years.
How do we get out of this mess, what are the solutions?
The solutions are actually simple in terms of policy, but they will be expensive:
First, we need to take our cues from the Amerindian communities and their spokespeople, which is why our EARTHX show begins with Amerindian interviews. It is also one of the reasons why one of our speakers today is Jim Durglo of the Salish Kootenai Tribe. We have a plethora of anthropological data going back millennia as well as cultural history of Amerindians doing extensive burning for forest management across North America, what our 21st century foresters now call “Pre-scribed burning”. Even in Appalachia, Native Americans burned extensively, which is why we had eastern buffalo migrating from Georgia to New York, and plentiful elk populations in Kentucky and Tennessee. Moreover, in today’s forest management world many tribes like the Menominee in Wisconsin and Coleville in Washington are among our best forest managers in the U.S.
Second, the issue will only be addressed by sustained federal funding on the order of an additional $2 billion a year for US Forest Service and companion federal agencies (BLM). We are currently spending a mere $510 million on forest management and this needs to be initially quadrupled to $2-3 billion annually, with further ramped up funding in out years for a 10 to 20 year and possibly longer duration to provide for sustained forest management on public lands. Everybody in Congress knows this issue, but for twenty years Congress has not seen fit to do other than tweaks at the wheel of funding. This western forest fire issue should be incorporated as a major provision of any major infrastructure bill crafted by Congress in the next two years. This problem has been building for 100 years; the workout will take at least 30 years and an investment of billions $ per year- a trifling for current Congressional leadership.
There needs to be an unprecedented level of cooperation and formalized coordination between multiple federal agencies (USFS, BLM, NPS and BIA as a core) and state fire agencies (such as CAL Fire), and local county governments as well as private forest owners (NAFO) for a landscape scale forest management implementation strategy.
Finally, The administration and Congress needs to put an end to environmental litigants seeking to impede aggressive forest management practices by passing no injunction legislation. Congress has done this before in the face of national emergencies with labor with the passage of the Norris /LaGuardia Act in 1932.
What should be EarthX’s role?
For more than 50 years, an East /West bi-coastal elite have propelled the environmental movement in the U.S. On the West Coast, the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth out of San Francisco have metastasized to embrace and dictate policies in CA, OR, WA, and a good part of AZ with CBD. On the East Coast the NY/DC axis of National Audubon, NRDC, EDF, and the Wilderness Society dominate an environmental agenda that has been treading water intellectually and politically for decades with ecologically devastating results on forest management policy. The movement’s prescriptions, emanating from this bi-coastal axis, are unrealistic and serve to undermine both the economy and our environment, creating a mockery of American leadership on forest management.
EarthX, out of Dallas, has the opportunity to represent the real America of our heartland states with solutions driven by common sense, entrepreneurship, technological innovation, and a bi-partisan political harnessing to solve our myriad environmental problems. This offers a much higher prospect of success than the increasingly radical agendas proposed by the environmental movement for decades.
I will conclude with a quote from one of my favorite books, Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey, about an Oregon lumbering family. Grandfather’s wakeup call:
“Wake it an' shake it! Wag it an' shag it! If you can't carry it roll it out an' drag it...” I hope this is an inspiration for our speakers.
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