President Donald Trump and I both saw the devastation of the fire on our recent trips to California: piles of rubble recognizable as houses only by their chimneys and charred appliances, and vehicles melted to the pavement in pools of molten aluminum. We also saw the heroism of firefighters, first responders and volunteers working together to battle the blaze and help the community.
California is a tinderbox. The ongoing drought, warm temperatures, insect infestations, poor forest management, continued residential and commercial expansion in the wildland-urban interface and other factors have made the western United States more prone to fire. The strong winds in California can rapidly turn a routine brush fire into a deadly blowtorch and send a storm of embers ahead of the flames.
To make matters worse, large swaths of our most fire-prone forests are inaccessible via firetruck, as was documented in the Camp Fire. This is just one of many obstacles that make it extremely difficult to stamp out fires before they reach a catastrophic size or intensity.
There are three benefits to active management.
First, it is better for the environment to manage the forests. As San Franciscans who live more than 160 miles away from the Camp Fire know, the resulting smoke and emissions negatively affect air quality. Catastrophic fires also damage watersheds, scorch and sterilize land, and increase the likelihood of floods and mudslides in the rainy season after fires.
Second, active management is also good for the economy. Logs typically come out of the forest in one of two ways: they are either harvested as timber to sustainably improve the health and resiliency of the forest (while creating jobs), or they are burned to the ground. Jobs matter, and the timber industry has long been a cornerstone of rural economies. Fortunately, these economic benefits go hand in hand with our goal of healthy forests.
I’ve visited too many fire camps, grieved with too many victims and spoken with too many experts to know that our communities and loved ones deserve to be better protected. We owe it to the firefighters and neighbors we have lost to work harder to improve the health of our forests.
Every year we watch our forests burn, and every year there is a call for action. Yet, nothing gets done. Now Congress has the opportunity to pass good policy that saves forests and lives by including House-passed proposals for forest management in the Farm Bill.