California’s timber industry is calling on the military to help control fires

Comment

Good morning! Anna Phillips, a national climate reporter for The Washington Post, wrote the top of The Climate 202 today. What are you doing to help the environment today? 🌎 Let us know! But first:

California’s timber industry wants boots on the ground this fire season

As California confronts peak wildfire season with fewer firefighters than usual, the state’s timber industry is pushing federal and state officials to take the unprecedented step of calling in the National Guard and the U.S. military before fires get out of control.

California has sought military assistance in past years when its firefighting crews were overwhelmed. But logging companies say this year the state shouldn’t wait until it needs help. Worsening heat and drought across California have led to dire predictions for this season, which traditionally is at its worst between July and October. At the same time, the U.S. Forest Service, which has long struggled with staffing shortages, has been scrambling to fill positions.

Now, the timber industry is calling for federal and state officials to compensate for the shortage of firefighters with military troops.

“No ifs, ands or buts about it — both our federal and state firefighting forces are understaffed,” said Matt Dias, president and CEO of the California Forestry Association, an industry group that represents timber companies. “Bringing in battalions or bringing in the National Guard is a solid solution.”

So far, the industry hasn’t been able to persuade federal and state officials to fulfill its request.

California is short on help

By the end of July, there were 3,454 Forest Service firefighters in the state, according to the agency, a decrease of 272 from the year before. A spokesman for Cal Fire, the state’s firefighting agency, said it is also short about 100 hand crews — whose primary responsibility while assigned to a wildfire is establishing fire lines and removing vegetation to control oncoming fire — mainly because of fewer inmate firefighters. The agency is trying to fill the gap with help from the California Conservation Corps and the state’s National Guard.

If there is a bright spot amid the labor shortage, it’s that California has had a relatively modest fire season.

As of Monday, fires had burned nearly 199,000 acres across the state, compared to the five-year average at this point of more than 1 million acres, according to statistics compiled by Cal Fire. The country is at what is officially called Preparedness Level 3, meaning that national fire managers are not yet having to struggle to find crews and equipment.

“We are actively coordinating with the Army in the event that its support is needed again this year,” Forest Service spokeswoman Michelle Burnett wrote in an email. If resources are stretched thin, then the federal government would “call upon the DOD, the National Guard, and our international partners for additional firefighting support, if needed.”

Stationing troops around California in advance of a major fire would be costly, Dias acknowledged. But he said that having more people would lead to a faster and more robust response, possibly preventing small fires from turning into massive and destructive blazes.

California’s worst wildfires have consumed entire towns. Thousands of people have lost their homes and businesses. Some people have died in the fires, including four this year.

Dias said the timber industry has suffered heavy economic losses. In the past two years, forest fires have charred more than 300,000 acres owned by California logging companies, he said. They have raced to cut and sell the burned trees, known as salvage logging, before they decay. But the losses have piled up. Intensifying wildfires in California are the “largest threat” the industry faces, Dias said.

Lenya Quinn-Davidson, a fire adviser with the University of California Cooperative Extension, said she sympathizes with the industry, but she doesn’t think bringing in more people will save the state’s forests. Fast-moving wildfires like the recent McKinney Fire and last summer’s Dixie Fire can’t be fought, she said, but prescribed burns and thinning might make them less severe.

“There’s this notion that if we just had more people, we could get a handle on putting the fires out,” Quinn-Davidson said. “But the conditions out on the landscape are beyond our ability to control them. The answer is really in the proactive work in the offseason.”

Big hurdles on the road to moving millions of U.S. drivers into EVs

Despite getting Congress to spend big on electric vehicles in the Inflation Reduction Act, the White House now has to persuade tens of millions of skeptical Americans to purchase the cars, Evan Halper reports for The Post.

The push is part of the administration’s goal to electrify the transportation sector, but net-zero carmakers are struggling to shake widespread GOP perceptions of the vehicles as a trophy of coastal elites, unreliable, and a headache to charge. The mainstream adoption of clean cars is expected to be tough for some time, although regulators are pushing to add more affordable models to the market. The law’s climate components, which pair incentives for buyers with rewards for manufacturers to increase the domestic production of EVs, will help, but a decent supply of EVs and charging stations still won’t appear overnight.

Meanwhile, Ford Motor on Monday announced plans to cut 3,000 jobs as it restructures and reorients its business around electric vehicles, Jaclyn Peiser and Evan Halper report for The Post.

The layoff announcement comes about a month after the company shared healthy second-quarter earnings, with chief executive Jim Farley saying that he was focused on growing Ford’s EV business while “improving profitability.” Ford has also said previously that it is on track to make more than 2 million EVs by the end of 2026.

Electric vehicles, which need about 30 percent fewer parts than gas models, use a smaller workforce, according to Brett Smith, director for technology at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., hinting at the prospect of job losses industry-wide while companies wait for new federal policies to kick in.

Another fossil fuel company pulls out of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Knik Arm Services has become the latest company to ask the Interior Department to cancel its lease in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, raising questions over whether fossil fuel drilling will continue on the protected lands. 

The move comes two months after Regenerate Alaska dumped its own lease in the refuge, leaving the state-owned Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority as the only company to hold a lease in the area. 

“Only the state of Alaska now stubbornly holds onto leases acquired during the lease sale that was held at the end of the Trump administration after an irresponsibly rushed and reckless process,” Karlin Itchoak, the Wilderness Society‘s senior regional director for Alaska, said in a statement. “The state, which has no ability to develop those tracts, is clinging to a false hope of drilling for oil against the wishes of the majority of people in America who want to see the Arctic Refuge permanently protected.”

A key part of the Biden administration’s climate agenda is halting new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters, but a compromise in the Inflation Reduction Act mandates new lease sales off the coast of Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico. The measure also ties the approval of new renewable energy projects on public lands to ongoing oil and gas auctions — a painful concession for many climate activists.

Up to 1 in 6 tree species on the brink of extinction, study finds

“Amid an onslaught of invasive insects, a surge in deadly diseases and the all-encompassing peril of climate change, as many as 1 in 6 trees native to the Lower 48 states are in danger of being wiped out,” according to a sweeping new assessment published Tuesday in the journal Plants People Planet, The Post’s Sarah Kaplan reports.

The new study is the first to list and assess the health of all 881 tree species native to the contiguous United States, an effort conservators call an achievement of itself since conservation research rarely focuses on plants. 

The most endangered tree in the contiguous United States is most likely a battered old oak hidden deep in a Texas mountain range – Quercus tardifolia – scarred by wildfire and imperiled by climate change. The threatened list includes soaring coast redwoods, capacious American chestnuts, elegant black ash and gnarled whitebark pine.

Herschel Walker knocks climate law, says, ‘Don’t we have enough trees around here?’

Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker of Georgia is criticizing the Inflation Reduction Act, which President Biden signed into law last week, over its investments in clean energy and to curb global warming. 

The former pro football player argues that the sweeping bill includes wasteful spending to tackle climate change and says, “Don’t we have enough trees around here?” The Washington Post’s John Wagner reports.

The remarks from Walker, who has gained the support of former president Donald Trump, are the latest comments that have drawn scrutiny from lawmakers and environmentalists. 

“They continue to try to fool you that they are helping you out. But they’re not,” he said during an appearance Sunday. “Because a lot of money, it’s going to trees.” The Walker campaign had no immediate comment Monday, but Walker was probably referring to the $1.5 billion allocated through the new climate law for the U.S. Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program.

Climate and health groups ask EPA to set emission standards for household appliances

More than two dozen environmental and health organizations filed a petition to the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday, calling on the agency to limit greenhouse gas pollution from fossil-fuel-fired household appliances such as furnaces and water heaters by listing them as subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act. 

The petition alleges that the lack of standards for the appliances, which contribute to smog, is a dangerous oversight in federal law that could not only threaten air quality but also increase risks to public health by causing cardiovascular and lung illnesses. The groups cite a provision within the Clean Air Act that says that the EPA is required to list any source that “cause[s], or contribute[s] significantly to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare,” and to issue rules for those within one year of the listing. 

“Emissions from buildings have a harmful, and frankly scary, impact on human health and contribute significantly to the climate crisis,” Amneh Minkara, the Sierra Club’s building electrification campaign deputy director, said in a statement. “EPA must address this problem head-on by granting our petition and moving forward swiftly to mitigate deadly pollution from heating appliances.”

The list of petitioners includes Earthjustice, Evergreen Action, Rewiring America and the Sierra Club, among others.

Dallas area hit by heavy flooding

The Dallas-Fort Worth area on Sunday experienced an extreme rain event overnight, leaving streets and highways flooded on Monday with water rescues and evacuations ongoing, Zach Rosenthal, Mary Beth Gahan and Annabelle Timsit report for The Post. 

The National Weather Service in Fort Worth warned of a continued threat for “life-threatening flash flooding,” adding that the risk of damage from the rainfall is “considerable” and that residents should move to higher ground. In some isolated areas, the downpour produced a 1-in-1,000-year flood — a significant turnaround from the drought that has been afflicting Dallas for several months. 

It marks the third unprecedented rain event to occur in the United States in a single week, following floods in St. Louis, eastern Kentucky and southeastern Illinois. Although extreme precipitation has just a 0.1 chance of happening in any given year, human-caused climate change has been tied to more frequent and severe rainfall.

Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist for Harris County, Tex., noted on Twitter that one weather gauge recorded nearly 40 percent of its typical annual rainfall in just 12 hours. Later Monday, that same gauge topped 14.9 inches of rain within the same time period.


https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/08/23/californias-timber-industry-is-calling-military-help-control-fires/