By George Wuerthner
Like zombies rising from the dead, legislators continue to push the flawed notion that logging can preclude massive wildfires and protect communities. The Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act of 2020, introduced by Senator Steve Daines (R–Montana) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D–California), is another example of the failure of our politicians to use science to guide effective legislation.
The legislation's goal is to reduce wildfire impact on communities, but the bill is more a giveaway to the timber industry than a panacea for large wildfires.
Climate and weather drive all significant wildfires, not fuels. Extreme fire weather includes low humidity, high temperatures, drought and, more importantly, high winds. If you have high winds, you cannot stop or slow a wildfire by logging or any other "fuel reduction."
If fuels were the primary cause of large wildfires, Oregon and Washington's coastal forests would be ablaze. These forests have more fuel per acre than a hundred acres of mountain woodlands. But there are virtually no fires in these coastal forests. Why? Because the climate is cool and moist
However, when you have extreme fire weather, nothing stops fires — until the weather changes.
The legislation would reduce environmental regulations and public oversight while fast-tracking logging far from communities and homes. It calls for the creation of "fuel breaks" of up to 3,000 acres (an acre is approximately the same size as a football field). Never mind that large wildfires regularly eject embers that can cross extensive areas without any fuels. For instance, the Eagle Fire in Oregon in 2017 jumped the mile-and-a-half width of the Columbia River.
Numerous researchers have emphasized that it is the home's flammability that determines the vulnerability of houses to wildfire. Logging miles from communities provides no added benefits in reducing wildfire threat, but it does impose environmental impacts.
For example, logging roads are a chronic source of sediment in streams, damaging trout waters across the West. Since most ignitions start on or near roadways, more roads ironically will increase the likelihood of more fires. Logging also increases the chances of fire by putting more fine fuels on the forest floor and opening the forest to drying and wind penetration. Logging also compacts soils, spreads weeds and disturbs sensitive wildlife.
Logging also reduces carbon storage and releases far more carbon into the atmosphere than wildfire. Thus, ironically, this legislation will contribute to more significant carbon dioxide emissions, which are the main factor in climate warming, which creates favorable conditions for wildfire spread.
None of these "costs" of logging will get serious consideration if this legislation is passed.
Some might say all these impacts are worthwhile if logging prevented large wildfires. But the science is clear on this topic, and the overwhelming evidence is that thinning/logging can't preclude large climate and weather-driven blazes.
The Daines-Feinstein legislation is misguided. The best way to assist communities is to provide financial resources to improve the resistance of homes to wildfires and community preparedness. Long term, we must also address carbon dioxide emissions, which are the ultimate source of climate warming driving large wildfires.
George Wuerther is an ecologist who has written several books on wildfire ecology.
This piece originally appeared in the Idaho Falls Post Register.
Photo by Tommy Hough
By Tommy Hough
If you haven't taken a moment to see or comment on potential development updates and zoning changes to the Mira Mesa Community Plan, you can to do so via this city webpage. The page leads you to development options in four different areas of Mira Mesa and Sorrento Valley, including:
Mira Mesa Gateway – This is the area incorporating the Islands shopping center and Edwards Cinema plaza immediately to the west of I-15, and north of the Legacy Apartments complex and Miramar College. To address concerns I've been hearing about this one, while the Village Green and Woods senior mobile home parks along Black Mountain Rd. are included in the development proposal zone, none of the plans apparently under consideration affect those locations.
Mira Mesa Town Center – This includes the shopping center areas north and south of Mira Mesa Blvd. east of Reagan Rd. and west of Camino Ruiz, and including a sliver of the southeast corner of Mira Mesa Blvd. and Camino Ruiz and the Mira Mesa Medical Mall area on the northeast corner, where the new Jollibee is going up behind IHOP.
Sorrento Mesa – This is broken down into three development options across Sorrento Valley, including the open commercial space near Qualcomm at the northeast corner of Mira Mesa Blvd. and Pacific Heights Blvd. just west of the Residence Inn; the Barnes Canyon Rd. corridor west of Lusk Blvd.; and the commercial area west of Camino Santa Fe, north of Flanders, and south of Mira Mesa Blvd. which could be zoned for dense housing.
Miramar Gateway – The north side Miramar Rd. west of I-15 and east of Camino Ruiz is an area already within the region's development footprint that could be "neighborhoodized" with some zoning changes and conversions of industrial and office park space into housing, with stories added in the course of conversions and renovations. This is also along what could be a good transit route on Miramar Rd., and could one day be an anchor for a trolley extension between UTC and I-15.
In the case of the Mira Mesa Gateway and Mira Mesa Town Center, you can select current zoning options if you want nothing to change, and there's an opportunity to leave comments at the end. While I've previously advocated for repurposed and renovated housing along the north side of Miramar Rd, no one's going to confuse me with being pro-development, and I'm generally not impressed by the "pretty pictures" that so often accompany development package proposals.
The questions to be considered for the proposals posted at the city site are how will they look in 10 or 20 years, how will they integrate into or improve their respective neighborhoods, and what kind of unforeseen traffic impacts may come with them? Some of these details can be addressed over time by a matter of code enforcement, something the city continues to lack active action on.
None of the zoning or development proposals currently being considered relate to the pending Stone Creek and Three Roots developments along Carroll Canyon. Construction on Three Roots could begin as early as next year at the southeast corner of Camino Santa Fe and Carroll Canyon Rd. The much larger Stone Creek development was just approved by the Mira Mesa Planning Group at the Vulcan quarry on either side of Camino Ruiz at Carroll Canyon Rd.
By Tommy Hough
Since co-founding San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action in 2014, I've spent a great deal of time writing, giving presentations, and making comments on conservation, in part to break the cycle of sprawl development in our backcountry.
I did much the same during the run of Treehuggers International on FM 94/9, and produced shows like the one posted here to give listeners pause about the impact of the never-ending cycle of suburban sprawl around San Diego County, mostly to build expensive housing unaffordable to most working San Diegans, far from jobs and transit.
Of course, I've been applying my conservation ethic and environmental advocacy for nearly 20 years, going back to a series of pieces I wrote for the Seattle Times detailing the need for comprehensive firefighting strategies and questioning the need to aggressively fight wildfires, or engage in prescribed burns and habitat destruction in the name of fire suppression in the hinterlands, miles from communities or private property. While managing communications at Oregon Wild I similarly had a front row seat for many of these conflicts between development, wildfire risk, and "defensible space."
I try not to carry a one-size fits all or myopic mindset with me, and I realize each proposal has its individual attributes. But since my arrival in Southern California I've come to value the unblemished open space of chaparral communities and ecosystems that make San Diego County so special and ecologically diverse, contrasted with the overdevelopment, sprawl, and denuded landscapes just to the north of us in Riverside County.
If you were to have taken a drive north on I-215 to Menifee at the time this show was recorded in 2008, and then turned east to go towards Hemet through Diamond Valley, perhaps via Domenigoni Parkway, you would've found a largely empty grassland, but still a functional wildlife corridor amid encroaching suburbia. Today, that encroachment has arrived, and the valley has come to typify the differences between our two counties toward development.
Now, road signs in Murietta, Menifee, Perris, and Diamond Valley aren't placed by municipalities or governments, but by housing speculators and developers. Rows of flags guide you to perfectly-graded, valley-wide expanses of earth like the wide shot of Marty McFly's Hill Valley neighborhood in 1955, with newly-poured concrete slabs quietly waiting for water and gas hookups. Despite what some of the giant billboards may advertise, these aren't affordable housing developments. They never will be.
While northern San Diego County is particularly rugged and hilly and perhaps not as suitable for development as the flatter valleys of Riverside County north of Temecula and Lake Elsinore at the base of the San Jacinto range, the blankets of chaparral that give Southern California its cooling backcountry green as its largest native ecosystem remains naturally contiguous throughout. To say it is misunderstood and frequently maligned would be an understatement.
Which brings me to this show. This episode of Treehuggers International features my friend Rick Halsey, the founder and director of the California Chaparral Institute, who was a frequent guest on the show and, at the time, a member of the San Diego Regional Fire Safety Forum formed in the wake of the 2003 Cedar Fire and 2007 Witch Creek Fire.
This particular episode is from Rick's second appearance on the show, recorded Oct. 2, 2008, and broadcast a few days later on Sunday, Oct. 5. While I never posted this episode on this particular page, I thought it was worth sharing now, 12 years later, because we're still talking about so many of the same issues, threats, and dumb behavior when it comes to our attitudes about wildfire in relation to the state's largest natural ecosystem. So much of this conversation remains so relevant it could've been recorded last week.
Rick and I were initially planning to talk about then-Supervisor Bill Horn's penchant for "fuel clearance," and the wanton destruction of perfectly healthy natural habitat in our backcountry, but the conversation also veered toward the impact of recent wildfires on old-growth chaparral stands in San Diego and along the Central Coast, how to make communities safer from wildfire, the future of Rancho Guejito, the use of goats in fuel clearance projects, and some bad behavior on the part of the U.S. Forest Service and a brush-crushing masticator (!) that devastated a virgin stand of chaparral in the Santa Ana Mountains.
Tom Petty once said, "People may be slow, but they ain't deaf." I hope that's true. I hope if policymakers and the public hear Rick Halsey enough times they'll start to get the cotton out of their ears and think about their positions on conservation, on sprawl at any cost, and think through the long-term effects of "managing" the natural environment that nature already manages for us.
Thanks as always to Rick for being my guest in 2008, and for continuing to speak on these same critical matters a dozen years later.
Santa Ana Mountains and Hauser Wilderness photos by Tommy Hough
Chaparral masticator photo by Jeff Kuyper
By Tommy Hough
Earlier today I made remarks to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors regarding Sheriff Bill Gore's request to pursue potential bids for outsourced mental health and basic medical care services to inmates in the county's seven jails.
Ultimately, the board voted 4-1 in support of the sheriff's request, thereby beginning a process in which the sheriff's department may explore bids from private contractors – despite the fact some 300 county employees already work as nurses, clinicians, and other health professionals in the jail system, and could lose their jobs as a result.
As Jeff McDonald reported in the San Diego Union-Tribune, dozens "testified during the hearing that workplace morale is poor, largely due to a perception that Gore does not value their work," but ultimately the board's Republican majority "denied Supervisor Nathan Fletcher's plan to flatly reject the sheriff's proposed outsourcing model."
My remarks today before the Board of Supervisors follow:
Good morning, my name is Tommy Hough, I live in Mira Mesa, county district three.
I'd like to ask you to vote no on this item.
It's disappointing to hear this pathological persistence on the part of some in government to outsource what, in my mind, are the most basic services that are already being capably handled by county employees. The answer is not outsourcing. The answer is getting these dedicated and able employees the support and resources they need to effectively do their jobs for the public and those incarcerated – not for shareholders.
We're not talking about who fills the vending machine, we're talking about who supplies, and who makes, mental health services and life and death decisions.
There's already been a great deal of scrutiny as to what's called the Private Prison Industry, and there should be. The idea that any entity, especially a multi-billion dollar business, is making money, hand over fist, in this nation on the incarceration of other human beings – and in the case of the sheriff’s department, individuals often awaiting trial – is not consistent with what we believe our nation's values to be, or our county's.
Incarcerated individuals and those awaiting trial must have a meaningful level of care. My neighbors deserve to keep their jobs with the county serving their neighbors in the Sheriff's Department – and for-profit companies must never run prisons or jail services.
Please vote NO on the sheriff's proposal to outsource and privatize these critical services.
Photo courtesy of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department
By Tommy Hough
I was delighted to co-hosted an informational forum opposed to the proposed Fanita Ranch development with my friend Samm Hurst, who is a candidate for the Santee City Council District 4 seat on the November ballot.
The forum featured a presentation from biologist Rick Halsey, founder of the Escondido-based California Chaparral Institute, on the hazards and environmental degradations of sprawl, threats posed by wildfire, and the complete misunderstanding of wildfire dynamics by policymakers. Using recent examples in the Santa Rosa and Paradise wildfires to illustrate his point, Rick's presentation was followed by questions, as well as thoughts from long-time Santeean and Fanita Ranch opponent Van Collinsworth.
By Tommy Hough
It was great to see a lot of familiar faces and reconnect as part of the inaugural Clairemont Family Service Day in August as I joined the team from the Clairemont Town Council with Congressman Scott Peters and Councilmember Jennifer Campbell at Balboa Ave. and Moraga Ave. to pick up litter and clear weeds.
Later I stopped by Balboa Ave. at Eckstrom and Hathaway to remove litter and weeds at the bus top opposite the Islamic Center of San Diego (ICSD). Great to see so many friends, neighbors, and familiar faces, albeit masked. Thanks to everyone who took part in the neighborhood improvement events around Clairemont this weekend.
A former San Diego broadcaster and media personality, Tommy Hough is a wilderness and conservation advocate, communications professional, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action.