Category Archives: Wildfire

Further Hardin Debunking

yacouba.jpg Regarding Perry’s comment to the previous post, the point is that the specific example on which Hardin based his thesis, the one everyone cites in support of it, is not borne out by the evidence, not that he presented any evidence for it in the first place.

Further, that it’s not a tragedy in the sense Hardin meant: that of a Greek tragedy in which a flaw of character inevitably leads to the demise of the protagonist. Individuals are not inevitably disposed to claw out their own at the expense of everyone else. Sometimes people realize that there really is such a thing as the common good; that benefiting everyone benefits themselves.

Yes, I know about the Sahara and the Sahel; I’ve been there; I’ve seen the goats gnawing away at everything.

The solution is not state central planning: you cite Chinese lakes; I’ll cite the Aral Sea.

The solution is also not privatization of the commons: look at the wildfires in the U.S. west exacerbated by subdivisions built in forests.

Solutions that work seem to involve combinations of innovation, education, and especially cooperation. Like this one:

In the late 1970s, when the problems of desertification, combined with population growth, drought and grinding poverty in West Africa first began to get sustained global attention, the prognosis was mostly gloom and doom. And as has been well documented, foreign aid has been less than successful in improving matters. In Yahenga, Reij and Fabore note, efforts to modernize agriculture through large-scale mechanized operations usually failed, for a variety of reasons. The spread of zai hole planting spearheaded by Sawadogo was mostly carried out by the local farmers themselves, with limited support from the government or foreign donors. Those with access to labor dug the holes, and used local sources of organic manure to fill them.

A tree grows in the Sahel, Andrew Leonard, How the World Works, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2006 11:22 PDT

The “free market” isn’t enough. Cooperation on scales from local to global is also needed. And it does happen, despite Garrett Hardin’s myth that it can’t.


Logging to Fund Firefighting?

CommunityForestry.jpg Got too many wildfires and need somebody to pay?
The forest service’s reasoning is simple: sell trees to loggers, use the money to clear areas of potential fire fuel. What the loggers cut can be potential fuel. With one sale, a fire hazard can be removed and the agency paid so it can remove more fuel.

US judges order stop to California logging projects, McClatchy newspapers,, Thursday May 15 2008

The federal Ninth District Court didn’t think that was so clever, or at least not so legal, and also not the only way:
Two for one always has an attractive ring. But are there no alternative ways of getting money to do the clearing that is imperative? Obviously, there may be. First of all, there is the USFS’s own budget. Does that budget contain any funds that could be devoted to fuel removal? Is every one of its activities so necessary and so tightly allocated that no money could be shifted? We do not know the answer because this alternative has not been explored.

Suppose that the USFS and its parent, the Department of Agriculture, cannot spare a dime. What then? Appropriate appropriations come from Congress. The work of fire prevention is work of the first importance. If the USFS does not have enough, why should not Congress be asked to give it more? Surely the avoidance of catastrophic fire in the national forests must rate a high priority among the needs of the nation.

No. 07-16892 D.C. No. CV-05-00205-MCE, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, 14 May 2008

Coming soon: eating seed corn to prevent hunger, credit card debt to get rich, and other clever risk management strategies.


Boutique Wildfire Insurance

aigtrucks.jpg Of course it’s AIG offering this:

In 2005 the loss prevention experts at AIG Private Client Group created the first-ever personal wildfire protection program. This groundbreaking service is available exclusively to AIG Private Client Group policyholders who reside in designated response zones in the western U.S.

Wildfire Protection Unit®, Exclusively for AIG Private Client Group Policyholders, AIG Private Client Group, accessed 9 October 2007

If you guessed that Aspen and Vail were among the designated response zones, you guessed correctly! And Los Altos and Beverly Hills. Good old AIG: charge what the traffic will bear and see if there’s a market.

They have a similar hurricane protection unit.

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The Flaming Black Swan of Hinckley

suicideexpress.jpg They didn’t see it coming, because they were looking the other way:

Speaking of wildfires, my book of the day is Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894. It is the sharply written story of a how a Minnesota town of 1,200 was devastated by a catastrophic firestorm that came raging out of the nearby woods with tornado-class winds and a 300-foot wall of fire, killing 436 people.

Book du Jour: Under a Flaming Sky, Paul Kedrosky, Infectuous Greed, October 3, 2007

Wikipedia says it burned 200,000 acres and some sources say 800 people died. Some people who lived jumped into wells or ponds or the river, or caught one of two trains that made it out of town.

So what was it that burned?

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Cheatgrass, Wildfires, and Serbia

jas-07-fire1.jpg Why are there so many wildfires in the U.S. west? Cheatgrass grows where land has been disturbed by overgrazing:
So basically 20,000 public lands welfare ranchers have a death grip on science policies applied to western public lands.

comment by kt, July 17th, 2007 at 8:13 am commmenting on Why cheatgrass wins, by Ralph Maughan, Ralph Maughan’s Wildlife News, July 16th, 2007

Hey, it could be worse!
Today was the hottest day in Serbia ever since the temperature has been measured, 45 C [113 F].

If we we Serbs were truly interested in our survival as a nation, we’d be scrambling to get some modern hardware for dealing with ecological catastrophes. It’s been ten years since Milosevic sold off our forest fire-fighting aircraft and pocketed the money.

Serbia and the Flames, Jasmina Tešanović, BoingBoing, Tuesday, July 24, 2007

This is what you get when you sell off the public good and the equipment to protect it to private interests: your country burning down.


Fire Plain

George_Wuerthner.jpg Building in a fire-prone area should be no different from building in a flood plain or a hurricane alley:
We need to begin looking at fire the way we view rivers. No one should be permitted to construct homes in the “fire plain” any more than we permit home construction in a river flood plain. The flood plain is as much as a part of the river as the normal flow channel. And a similar situation exists for fires. There are many ecosystems where the likelihood of a fire in a hundred year period is extremely high—building homes in such “hundred year fire plains” is as foolish as building a house in a hundred year river floodway.

Guest Opinion: George Wuerthner’s On the Range; Land Use Planning Must Address Wildfire Plain By George Wuerthner, New West, 18 June 2007

Seems simple enough. The article says that only Oregon has zoning laws similar to this. Insurance isn’t mentioned in the article, but one of the commenters brings up wildfire insurance, as in maybe homeowners can build in the woods, but they have to buy wildfire insurance. And maybe in some areas they can’t get that, either, and they just can’t build. Continue reading

Wildfire Myopia

smoke.gif It looks like technological security isn’t the only kind disorganized in government. The latest GAO report about wildfires seems like more smoke than fire:

This testimony summarizes several key actions that federal agencies need to complete or take to strengthen their management of the wildland fire program, including the need to (1) develop a long-term, cohesive strategy to reduce fuels and address wildland fire problems and (2) improve the management of their efforts to contain the costs of preparing for and responding to wildland fires.

For cost-containment efforts to be effective, the agencies need to integrate cost-containment goals with the other goals of the wildland fire program–such as protecting life, resources, and property–and to recognize that trade-offs will be needed to meet desired goals within the context of fiscal constraints.

Wildland Fire Management: A Cohesive Strategy and Clear Cost-Containment Goals Are Needed for Federal Agencies to Manage Wildland Fire Activities Effectively, GAO-07-1017T, U.S. General Accounting Office, June 19, 2007

How about a strategy for integrating wildfire planning into subdivision planning, or cost allocations from homeowner wildfire insurance?

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Wildfires: Who Should Pay?

alfire1.jpg The New York Times asked:
The steeply rising cost of preventing and suppressing wildfires, which burned more of the American landscape in 2006 than in any other year since at least 1960, is creating a rift between Washington and state and local governments over how the burden ought to be shouldered.

As Costs of Wildfires Grow, So Does a Question, by Kirk Johnson, New York Times, January 3, 2007

Basically, wildfire costs have increased greatly in recent years, and the current federal administration wants to dump the costs onto states. Continue reading

Wildfires and Climate

smoke_column_2.jpg Somebody’s been paying attention to global warming and wildfires:
…the Association of Fire Ecology said climate change will limit humans’ ability to manage wildland fire.

“Under future drought and high heat scenarios,” the declaration reads, “fires may become larger more quickly and be more difficult to manage. Fire suppression costs may continue to increase, with decreasing effectiveness under extreme fire weather and fuel conditions. Extreme fire events are likely to occur more frequently.”

Fire ecology group: Climate change will limit wildfire management By Perry Backus, the Missoulian, 31 August 2006

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