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EDITORIAL: “Too much dead and dying material” in California’s forest

Many progressives pilloried President Donald Trump last week when he suggested there may be more to the California wildfire issue than global warming. In fact, some greens now concede Mr. Trump has a point.

The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that many environmentalists now agree mismanagement has played a major role in the carnage and devastation wrought by the Golden State wildfires. To wit: Longstanding limitations on logging, along with federal fire suppression efforts, have created a tinderbox ripe for explosion.

“Forests have become overgrown with trees and under brush due to a mix of human influences,” the Journal reports. Those “human influences” include successful pressure over the decades from green groups to hamstring the logging industry. Legal disputes dating back to the 1980s, the paper notes, led federal land managers to shut down a wide swath of Western forests to logging.

But now some environmental groups have reversed course and today favor policies that would hasten the thinning of overgrown forests.

“We need to try new things,” David Edelson, Sierra Nevada project director of the Nature Conservancy, told the Journal, “because what we’ve done in the past hasn’t worked.” Jim Branham, executive officer of the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, agreed. “Having the fuel loads in forests and wild lands reduced is definitely helpful in modifying fire behavior, but it needs to occur at a much greater scale than we are currently doing.”

And that could entail relaxing limitations on tree harvesting, controlled burns and a greater willingness by federal land managers to let fires that pose no danger to homeowners burn themselves out.

This perspective represents “a new front” for green groups, the Journal notes. “Mr. Edelson used to sue to block logging plans in national forests as an attorney for another green group,” the paper reveals. “Now he said he sees the need for limited logging because of the dramatic rise in wildfires.”

This transformation puts him in agreement with the timber industry and the Trump administration.

“The bottom line is there’s just too much dead and dying material,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said recently after viewing the destruction wrought by the Camp Fire.

The evolution of many greens on this issue provides hope for common ground that may help reduce fire damage and save lives and property. Matthew Hurteau, a forest ecologist at the University of New Mexico, told NPR in August, “There are examples where … you have both conservation groups and ... forest products industry folks involved at the table … and they have been able to navigate some of these challenges and come up with solutions that work for the group.”

Compromise and cooperation seem a more promising recipe to attack the problem than acrimony and reflexive ideological bickering.

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