We Must Change Our Medieval Approach to Wildfires

In medieval societies, if someone were sick, the common solution was to bleed the patient to rid the body of “bad” blood. If the patient recovered, then obviously bleeding was the cure. If the patient died, it was because not enough of the “bad” blood had been removed.

In many ways, our approach to wildfire and smoke is like medieval blood-letting.

People are desperate to curtail the smoke, fires, and inconvenient created by wildfire so they grasp at anything that promises a “cure.”.

The common refrain we hear over and over is that we only “actively managed” forests to reduce fuels than we would “cure” the perceived smoke and fire problem.

Yet despite the millions of acres we have already treated thinning/logging and “active” management like prescribed burns we continue to see large wildfires across the West.

Most “active” management proponents believe the failure of the logging cure is mostly due to insufficient treatment—just like the medieval doctors whose patients died because they didn’t remove enough of the “bad” blood.

But just as medieval doctors had little understanding of the disease and how to treat it, most “active” management advocates fail to appreciate the cause of our large fires.

What drives large wildfires is climate/weather, not fuels. When you have extreme fire weather conditions of drought, high temperatures, low humidity and high winds, almost nothing short of a change in weather will stop a blaze.  With climate change, all of these factors are exacerbated.

When we have fires that regularly jump across major rivers (like the Eagle Fire in Oregon that jumped the Columbia River) or the Thomas Fire by Santa Barbara, California that was only halted when it reached the Pacific Ocean (the only firebreak that held), one recognizes that fuel treatments are a placebo at best. They may make us feel good, but they don’t do much to halt large conflagrations across the landscape.

Not only do we spend tax money on inefficient and ineffective treatments, but there is also collateral damage that results from the thinning/logging. Essentially, we lose native forests, and the biodiversity they support and replace them with domesticated human-created landscapes.

Logging/thinning removes nutrients, biomass, carbon, can harm forest stand genetics, and disrupts watersheds, disturbs wildlife, helps to spread weeds, and compact soils. Not to mention that wildfire is critical to many plants and animals which depend on episodic mixed to high severity fires.

Furthermore, most federal timber sales lose money as well, so we are spending tax dollars on a “cure” that at best is questionable, if not futile.

Thus, there is really only two workable solutions. The first is learning to live with fire by making our homes and communities less vulnerable to blazes. This has been shown repeatedly to be the most cost-effective and efficient means of coping with wildfire.

The second part of the solution is more long-term. Since warming climate is contributing to increased fire on the landscape, reducing human-caused CO2 inputs will significantly reduce wildfire over time.

More articles by:

George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. He serves on the board of the Western Watersheds Project.

Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
Robert Fantina
Democrats and the Mid-Term Elections
Joseph Flatley
The Fascist Creep: How Conspiracy Theories and an Unhinged President Created an Anti-Semitic Terrorist
Joseph Natoli
Twitter: Fast Track to the Id
William Hawes
Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds
Bob Wing
Toward Racial Justice and a Third Reconstruction
Ron Jacobs
Hunter S. Thompson: Chronicling the Republic’s Fall
Oscar Gonzalez
Stan Lee and a Barrio Kid
Jack Rasmus
Election 2018 and the Unraveling of America
Sam Pizzigati
The Democrats Won Big, But Will They Go Bold?
Yves Engler
Canada and Saudi Arabia: Friends or Enemies?
Cesar Chelala
Can El Paso be a Model for Healing?
Mike Ferner
The Tragically Misnamed Paris Peace Conference
Barry Lando
Trump’s Enablers: Appalling Parallels
Ariel Dorfman
The Boy Who Taught Me About War and Peace
Binoy Kampmark
The Disgruntled Former Prime Minister
Faisal Khan
Is Dubai Really a Destination of Choice?
Arnold August
The Importance of Néstor García Iturbe, Cuban Intellectual
James Munson
An Indecisive War To End All Wars, I Mean the Midterm Elections
Nyla Ali Khan
Women as Repositories of Communal Values and Cultural Traditions
Dan Bacher
Judge Orders Moratorium on Offshore Fracking in Federal Waters off California
Christopher Brauchli
When Depravity Wins
Robby Sherwin
Here’s an Idea
Susan Block
Cucks, Cuckolding and Campaign Management
Louis Proyect
The Mafia and the Class Struggle (Part Two)
David Yearsley
Smoke on the Water: Jazz in San Francisco
Elliot Sperber
All of Those Bezos