Ryan Chartrand

As I drove to my parents’ house in the Bay Area last weekend, I couldn’t help but notice huge amounts of smoke billowing in the sky near the coast. The entire sky was hazy and the air smelled of smoke for the entire weekend. The Santa Cruz Mountains were engulfed in flames.

By now, the fire has been completely contained (though there is still no estimate as to when it will be extinguished) after being out of control for almost a week. It’s still burning, and a “let it burn” policy has been adopted until the fire puts itself out. The blaze consumed about 4,200 acres and burned down more than 30 homes and 63 other buildings. Also, don’t forget about the animals now threatened because their habitats were destroyed. Animal shelters in the Bay Area are currently overrun with animals saved from the fires.

As horrible as this is, it’s all relatively small compared to the massive fires that scorched more than 246,000 acres in Southern California last year. Something must be done to stop these fires from causing so much damage.

If you ask any typical environmentalist about these wildfires, they’ll regurgitate what they’ve been hearing from the liberal media. “Oh look,” they’ll say, “another example of global warming!” The logic of these environmentalists is that the higher temperatures make drier forests, which are more susceptible to fire. They’re so busy blaming global warming (and its average annual global temperature increase of 1øF) that they don’t realize their lobbying against logging and forest-thinning is much more to blame for this devastation.

In order to protect our forests from these fires, a few actions must take place. First, the forest overstory (the uppermost part) must be thinned. Next, the underbrush must be cleared out to decrease surface fuels. Both of these actions dramatically reduce the forest fuels that can lead to an out-of-control fire. What also helps is a little bit of logging since forests are actually showing an increase in trees per square mile. This increase in density makes forest thinning more and more necessary.

These fire prevention tactics were credited in saving the town of Lake Arrowhead from destruction last October as wildfires destroyed the neighboring towns. The U.S. Forest Service had been at work in the area to decrease forest fuels and create fuel breaks. The only damage to Lake Arrowhead was to private properties not covered by the Forest Service. The hardest hit towns by that fire didn’t have fuel breaks, and hundreds of homes burned to the ground.

Every year, the Forest Service submits hundreds of proposals for forest thinning and fuel breaks to the General Accounting Office for review. About half of these are subject to appeal, and of those, 59 percent are appealed by special interest groups like the Sierra Club and the Alliance for Wild Rockies. These appeals succeed in delaying the thinning of 900,000 acres of forests, all of which are then at risk of becoming more Santa Cruz or Southern California catastrophes. Officials for the Forest Service say they spend half their time dealing with these appeals and $250 million a year fighting the litigation launched by delusional environmentalists.

Just to tie all of this into global warming, a fire the size of those in Southern California emits more than 38 million tons of greenhouse gases. To put that in perspective, that’s the amount 7 million cars emit over the course of a year. Oops. Perhaps the environmentalists should decide which they really care about more: our forests or their own selfish special interests.

Jennifer Gilmore is a microbiology senior and a conservative columnist for the Mustang Daily.

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