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Right-Wing Fire Analysis

Embers fly above a firefighter as he works to control a backfire as the Delta Fire burns in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Calif., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. The blaze had tripled in size overnight. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Thanks to right-wing extremism, anything in the world can now be part of the culture war. That very much includes wildfire. This article about how people in rural northern California see wildfire is pretty wild. Anyone with any sense knows that the biggest issues in the growth of wildfire are a) climate change, b) way, way too many people in the forests doing stupid things, c) a century of fire oppression that created a huge fuel load in the forests. It’s in that order too. A huge majority of forest fires are human started, thanks to anything from people not putting out campfires to idiots using fireworks in the forest to gigantic electric companies not doing basic maintenance on their systems. But if you are a right-winger in northern California, the problem is the Dems and the big government not allowing you to cut down the trees.

“We as a government seem to have no problem declaring an emergency for lots of things, so why doesn’t Washington declare a public health and safety emergency based on forest health and climate change for the Pacific Northwest and make it a priority?” asked Larry Alexander, executive director of the Northern California Resource Center, which sponsors the fire safe council in Yreka and other parts of the county. “It would be beneficial to the forest, beneficial for public health and safety, and it would put a lot of people to work.”

Dissatisfaction with state and federal government was a common refrain among locals in the county, which is in the heart of the proposed state of Jefferson. The breakaway state would include portions of Northern California and southern Oregon, where many residents of the largely remote and rural region believe they have been neglected by the governments of both states.

The Jefferson movement is decades old — Yreka was the proposed capital in the original 1941 plan — but has gained new energy in recent years as supporters say liberal Democratic policies around issues such as gun control, immigration and taxes are unaligned with their interests. And as the region’s once-booming timber industry has become increasingly hobbled by regulations, environmentalism, technological advances and other market forces, many locals started looking toward the now-smoldering forestland with a growing sense of betrayal.

“When we lost the logging industry around this area, it was devastating for us,” Yreka Mayor Duane Kegg said. “We lost a lot of our economy, and losing a lot of economy has a trickle-down effect on a lot of different issues — homelessness, people going through drug and alcohol problems. We’ve seen it over the years, and I attribute all of this to back in the ’80s, losing our logging industry.”

Ah yes, the halcyon days of the mid twentieth century…..

Echoing his concerns was Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale), who has been outspoken about the state’s forest management practices in the past — even joining conservative gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder in a 2021 news conference decrying Newsom’s handling of wildfires.

“I’m not blasting anybody that’s here,” LaMalfa said of the crews battling the McKinney fire, “but at the upper level, they’re so fearful of lawsuits and such that they’re almost paralyzed.”

The district LaMalfa represents has experienced several devastating fires in recent years, including the massive Dixie fire last year and the deadly Camp fire in Paradise in 2018. He recalled when 5,000-acre fires were considered big, while today, they routinely surpass five and six digits.

“What has changed has been 50 years of changed management due to lawsuits, misuse of the ESA [Endangered Species Act] and all of that,” he said.

Doug LaMalfa is a genuinely stupid person. Lawsuits to force the federal government to follow their own laws is not the issue. Not even close. If anything, these prevent destructive wildfires by working for holistic forest management practices.

There is a legitimate point here–bureaucracy does get in the way of effective forest management. More could be done at the federal level, though it would cost A LOT of money. But these aren’t the real critiques coming out of these places. It’s a nostalgia for a time without so many fires when you could cut anything down. However, correlation is not causation. Moreover, logging increases the chances of fire due to the sparks and due to the huge amount of debris left on the ground.

That friction was underscored by the strong pro-logging undercurrent running through Yreka and outlined by Mayor Kegg.

“My family’s been in logging for a number of years, so we’ve seen a lot of things that unfortunately didn’t go the right direction for a lot of years as far as proper forest management, and that’s what happens a lot of places up here in true Northern California and southern Oregon,” Kegg said.

“We can still keep our habitat for wildlife and still keep it safe for everybody and have logging, which is a valuable resource for our community, and which it’s pretty much built on,” he added.

Kim Greene, mayor of the nearby town of Weed, which saw similar destruction during the Boles fire in 2014, shared a similar sentiment.

“Our slogan in Weed is, ‘You can log it, you can graze it or you can burn it down,’” she said. “The state of California chooses to burn it down.”


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