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Serving: West

Simple solutions aren’t always the best policy

Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images bear-fire-sept-2020-oroville-CA-GettyImages-1228423923.jpg
Butte County firefighters watch as flames tower over their truck at the Bear fire in Oroville, Calif. on Sept. 9.
Is it too much to ask to have a collaborative, comprehensive approach to wildfire prevention?

By their very nature, politicians look for simple explanations with even simpler solutions for problems. The shortest line between two points is the one politicians are most likely to take. If they can use an issue to bludgeon political opponents, so much the better. And they’re legendary for never letting a crisis go to waste.

On that last point, one need only look to the most recent lockdown edicts from Gov. Gavin Newsom, which critics say base counties’ status partly on issues other than the spread of the coronavirus, such as voter turnout.

Working with local jurisdictions to identify and protect people who are most vulnerable, and otherwise finding ways to reopen more of the economy, would be too complicated. Just keep everything shut down. Simple solution.

Now it appears many politicians are taking a similar approach to the West’s historic wildfire season, which has been especially devastating to our wine and livestock industries. As an example, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris recently remarked during a trip to California that “it’s just a fact” that climate change was the culprit.

“We have to do better as a country,” she said. Her remarks came during a photo op with Newsom on burned-out property for which they reportedly didn’t get permission from the property’s owners, who had yet to be let in to assess damage themselves.

But I’m not here to pick on California’s governor or (very) junior senator, who may or may not be vice president-elect by the time you read this. Others are getting in on the act, too, including Washington’s Gov. Jay Inslee, who referred to Western wildfires as “climate fires.” Harris’ running mate, former Vice President Joe Biden, wins the prize for hyperbole by calling President Donald Trump a “climate arsonist.”

What’s their answer? Just kick all the gasoline-powered vehicles off the road. Simple solution.

And for Trump’s part, his solution is a soundbite, too. “Clean your floors.” Sounds so simple.

Not all voters agree with the scapegoating, however. In a national poll by Rasmussen Reports in September, only 41% of likely voters said they believe climate change “is the more likely reason that wildfires in California are spreading, while 54% blame other reasons. Five percent said they weren’t sure.

As I’ve written before, efforts to protect the environment are all well and good. But even if you end all carbon emissions, if lightning strikes a dense forest underbrush, the fire will burn hot. So is it too much to ask to have a comprehensive approach that also includes fuels-reduction measures such as grazing, targeted timber harvests and prescribed fire?

One wouldn’t think so. But each of these solutions requires debate and deliberation over where, how, how much, and the like. Unfortunately, with today’s politicians, collaboration and comprehensive solutions aren’t in style. So they keep it simple, and the rest of us suffer the consequences.

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