The nation has been transfixed by the raging, out-of-control fires in Northern California that are responsible for at least two dozen deaths, hundreds of injuries, and the destruction of thousands of homes and businesses.
If we are looking for someone to blame, not for the fire itself, but for its intensity and destructive power, the place to begin is with environmentalists who are fierce opponents of logging and aim to return all the earth to its native condition, with no trace of a human imprint.
This goal of environmentalists - to remove all traces of human impact from nature - is not only misguided and dangerous, it is unbiblical.
According to environmental regressives, man is a noxious parasite in nature. According to the Bible, however, man is God’s vice-regent with delegated authority to manage nature for man’s benefit. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15 [emphasis mine throughout]).
The Hebrew word translated “work” (abad) can also mean to “serve,” which is another way of saying that man is directed not to destroy nature but to steward it and nurture it. He’s also responsible to “keep” it, a Hebrew word (shamar) which means to “guard, to protect, to hedge about.”
Preventable forest fires that burn millions of acres of trees to the ground are hardly good examples of responsible environmental care.
The primary cause of immense, destructive forest fires is the absence of human stewardship. As H. Sterling Burnett put it in the New York Times, “While wildfires, per se, are entirely natural, the size, intensity and harm caused annually by the past decade’s forest fires are almost entirely of human origin: federal mismanagement of our national forests are to blame.”
According to the U.S. Forest Service, more than 190 million acres of public land are at risk of catastrophic fires, which includes 60% of our national forests. The main culprit: misguided federal policies which have virtually removed all the land that belongs to the people of the United States from being harvested by the people to whom it supposedly belongs.
Timber harvests have dramatically and dangerously plunged 75%, from 12 billion board feet a year to less than 4 billion board feet a year. Not only is this foolish and mindless trend bad for human beings, since it drives up the cost of every home in America and endangers the lives of those who live near national forests, it’s not even good for the forests themselves.
There are simply too many trees and too much brush. The brush provides a potentially catastrophic fuel load on the forest floor, and the prevention of harvesting causes trees to grow too close together and turns them from majestic specimens of God’s handiwork into little more than kindling. Huge ponderosa pines thrive in stands of 20 to 55 trees per acre. But when they are jammed together in densities of 300 to 900 trees per acre, they burn like Roman candles when kindled, and can produce temperatures of over 2000 degrees, hot enough to melt aluminum, silver, and gold.
Just twenty years ago, a wildfire exceeding 100,000 acres was thought to be catastrophic. Now such wildfires are “the rule rather than the exception.” As I write these words, the fire in Northern California has consumed more than 140,000 acres and shows no signs of slowing.
Fires in general are becoming increasingly intense. In 1998, 81,000 fires burned a total of 1.3 million acres. But by 2007, 86,000 fires burned 9.3 million acres to a charred crisp.
Bob Zybach has a PhD in environmental science from Oregon State, and has been studying wildfires for virtually his entire professional life. In commentary forwarded to me by a good friend, Zybach points out the huge difference between fires which break out in almost totally unmanaged federal lands compared to fires on state lands, where harvesting is permitted and even encouraged.
Writing about wildfires in Oregon toward the end of the summer, he notes that “all of the major fires...are on federal Wildernesses, National Forests, O&C Lands (Oregon and California Railroad Revested Lands), and the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.” At the same time, despite the fact that they are grow in exactly the same climate, “no major fires are burning on private or state lands.”
Said Zybach, “From 1951 until 1987 there was only one major forest fire in excess of 10,000 acres in western Oregon. Right now (September 2016) there are at least nine such fires.”
In Northern California, raging tempests are burning in the Cleveland National Forest, the Six Rivers National Forest, the Mendocino National Forest, and other Forest Service lands as well.
These fires are both a human tragedy and an environmental catastrophe. The Washington Post this morning contained a story of a 27-year-old spina bifida victim, Christina Hanson, who was confined to a wheelchair and didn’t make it. Her story will be multiplied by the dozens as first responders comb the debris.
Environmentally, these fires pollute the air, kill millions of wildlife, and consume thousands of old-growth trees. As Paul Driessen writes,
The infernos exterminate wildlife habitats, roast eagle and spotted owl fledglings alive in their nests, immolate wildlife that can’t run fast enough, leave surviving animals to starve for lack of food, and incinerate organic matter and nearly every living creature in the thin soils. They turn trout streams into fish boils, minus the veggies and seasonings. Future downpours and rapid snowmelts bring widespread soil erosion into streambeds. Many areas will not grow trees or recover their biodiversity for decades.
Bottom line: If you are an environmentalist or someone who simply values the sanctity of human life, you ought to be the biggest supporter of responsible logging on the planet.