Guest Opinion by Kip Hansen
The NY Times is obsessed with the President — it cannot report anything without taking a pot shot at him.
In this case, NY Times Climate journalist, Kendra “Gloom is My Beat” Pierre-Louis, wades into the roiling waters of Climate Change and Politics, apparently far over her head.
The article in point is “Fact Check: Trump’s Misleading Claims About California’s Fire ‘Mismanagement’”, the NY Times’ response to a Presidential Tweet. Thanks to the brilliant investigative reporting of the Times’ staff writer, we get the lede as a subtitle: “On Twitter, the president claimed that the state’s wildfire woes are a result of poor forest management. The truth is more complicated.”
Who would have imagined that the complex problem of California wildfires could actually be “more complicated” than the President could communicate in 140 characters?
What did the President Tweet?
If we didn’t have the NY Times to tell us that it’s more complicated than that, we might have thought [if we were totally illiterate utter morons] that the problem was just Bad Forest Management and could be solved by denying California federal forest dollars. /sarc
It’s quite clear you see — the most careful nit-picking reveals that:
“This is misleading.
Mr. Trump is suggesting that forest management played a role, but California’s current wildfires aren’t forest fires.
“These fires aren’t even in forests,” said Max Moritz, a wildfire specialist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Rather, the Camp and Woolsey fires, which are ripping through Northern and Southern California, began in areas known as the wildland-urban interface: places where communities are close to undeveloped areas, making it easier for fire to move from forests or grasslands into neighborhoods.” — NY Times’ Kendra Pierre-Louis
Technically, Kendra “Gloom is my Beat” tells us, it’s not a forest fire — it is a “wildland-urban interface” fire. We can see that this is not forest:
Pictured above: Paradise before the fire.
It’s the Burger King and the church both neatly tucked in amongst the pine trees that make it “not a forest”.
So when the pine trees burn like a blast furnace fed by 50 mph winds, whipped into a frenzied fire storm, it’s not a forest fire unless it’s in an official forest — the President was misleading us all by calling it a forest fire instead of … what? Maybe he should have said “wildfire” because it wasn’t actually in an official forest? How utterly inane.
By the way, it is simply false that the Camp Fire “began in areas known as the wildland-urban interface”. The Camp Fire, which destroyed Paradise, is known to have started near Pulga, which is east and a little north of Paradise, in the Plumas National Forest. So, the fire starts in a forest — a National Forest — and driven by high winds becomes a virtual fire storm that sweeps through the “wildland-urban interface” called Paradise.
“According to the [United States Department of Agriculture] report, 44 million houses, equivalent to one in every three houses in the country, are in the wildland-urban interface. The highest concentrations are in Florida, Texas and, yes, California.” — NY Times
To be perfectly clear, if fatuous, when lots of people (1 out of every 3) build houses in a forest, it is no longer a forest but becomes a “wildland-urban interface” by definition and therefore, the Times’ informs us, any subsequent fire there is not a forest fire.
“And the most “deadly and costly” fires happen at the wildland-urban interface, because they damage houses, towns and lives. The Camp Fire has already matched the deadliest fire in state history, killing at least 29 people, and the death toll may rise.
“We have vulnerable housing stock already out there on the landscape. These are structures that were often built to building codes from earlier decades and they’re not as fire resistant as they could be,” Dr. Moritz said. “This issue of where and how we built our homes has left us very exposed to home losses and fatalities like these.” — NY Times
Well, I’m glad that’s settled (and I hope the President has learned his lesson).
And what else did the President get wrong in 140 characters? Apparently, everything according to the Times.
“What Trump said: ” Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. “
The statement suggests that California’s forest-management problems are at fault. But the majority of California’s forests are federally held.
Of the state’s 33 million acres of forest, federal agencies, including the Forest Service and the Interior Department, own and manage 57 percent. Forty percent are owned by families, Native American tribes or companies, including industrial timber companies; just 3 percent are owned and managed by state and local agencies.” — NY Times
After insisting that the Camp Fire was not in a forest (and incorrectly claiming that the fire did not start in a forest — it did), the Times insists that because the federal government controls 57 percent of California’s forests it must be their — the Federal Government’s — fault. Not to put too fine a point on this, but if one is going to insist that it was not a forest fire and did not happen in a forest — how can the Federal Government’s majority control of the forests enter into the discussion?
That’s my fact-check of the NY Times’ failed fact-check.
My question? Has the NY Times editorial staff lost its collective mind altogether?
# # # # #
I must admit I get weary of the NY Times’ absurd Editorial Narrative on the Environment and Climate Change — so many of their pieces on these topics are sophomoric and some are just plain silly — the above is a fine example of the “silly” category.
[Don’t they have real live Editors any more? — guys and gals with a lifetime of experience and a cigar or cigarette holder stuck in the side of their mouth — real life Perry Whites — who have seen it all and are tired of Cub Reporters making the paper look stupid?]
# # # # #
This story does have a serious side — and bless her heart, Pierre-Louis actually reports on it in a different article co-authored by Jeremy White. This article is the real story behind the recent California Fires:
The fact is that one out of every three American homes are being built or already exist in “wildland-urban interface” or in the “wildland-urban intermixed” areas.
Here’s the definitions:
“The WUI [Wildland-Urban Interface] definition in the Federal Register was developed to identify communities at risk in the vicinity of public lands. According to this definition, “the Wildland-Urban Interface is the area where houses meet or intermingle with undeveloped wildland vegetation” (USDA and USDI 2001).
Areas where houses and wildland vegetation intermingle are referred to as intermix WUI.
Developed areas that abut wildland vegetation are characterized as interface WUI.
Although this definition was developed in conjunction with wildland fire policy, it does not explicitly account for differences in fire risk.
[reformatted for clarity — kh]
The Camp Fire situation looks like this, in a series of images: (first one is a repeat)
The Camp Fire is believed to have started in Pulga — just east and north of the number 70 on the highway just outside of the red circle around Paradise. It is in the Pulmas National Forest, and indicated as WUI on the Silvis WUI map (second below).
Chico is a town – a city – it has houses and stores and a university. Paradise is both wildland-urban interface and wildland-urban intermix:
A close look at Paradise from the satellites:
Where we see gray and green intermixed we are looking at areas like these (repeating the picture far above):
The buildings (and the homes) are quaintly nestled into the landscape of coniferous forest — this is both intentional and foolish.
The result of this desire to get right into “Nature” is this:
Photo credit: Noah Berger/AP
And the Woolsey Fire in Malibu?
The Woolsey Fire started in the upper right hand corner, in the interface/intermix area shown (in the last image) in yellow and orange. Southern California’s infamous Santa Anna winds — the Diablo Wind, the Devil Wind — swept down from the northeast, blowing the fire south and west through the rugged chaparral-covered hills all the way to the sea at Malibu [whose point produces the famous surfing conditions there ].
Southern California chaparral “is characterized by nearly impenetrable, dense thickets (except the more open chaparral of the desert). These plants are highly flammable during the late summer and autumn months when conditions are characteristically hot and dry. They grow as woody shrubs with thick, leathery, and often small leaves, contain green leaves all year (are evergreen), and are typically drought resistant (with some exceptions). After the first rains following a fire, the landscape is dominated by small flowering herbaceous plants, known as fire followers, which die back with the summer dry period.” [source: Wiki] The chaparral is routinely destroyed — and restored — by infrequent fires (burning on average every 10-15 years).
[I grew up in Southern California — Los Angeles born and raised with university in Santa Barbara just north up the coast. I saw chaparral wildfires many times — manzanita brush can almost literally explode as the Santa Anna winds push fire through the hills and canyons — fleeing a chaparral fire in the hills is a terrifying experience that you will want to skip.]
We humans make lots of mistakes — one of them is building homes in among the trees and chaparral. We also build on crumbling sea cliffs, hurricane prone ocean fronts, in known flood plains and on sand bars/barrier islands — we build our homes in the darnedest and most dangerous places.
Fact-Check Wrap Up: The Times apparently feels compelled to denigrate the sitting President at every opportunity. He did use the language of the common man, calling these fires “forest fires” – quite correctly. In the case of the Camp Fire, they have been super-charged by decades of misguided forest management policies that have left many western forests with very high fuel loads — the result of policies that called for quick response suppression of every fire instead of letting the natural succession of fire and recovery take place. We are now paying the price. This mismanagement was almost universal and cannot properly be blamed on the Federal Government or State Government alone. State, County and municipal planners have created fire-risk nightmares all over the country by allowing homes to be built in areas that are at extremely high risk of fire. It is “more complicated” – – the situation will not be improved or corrected, nor could it possibly be, by denying California federal forest funds.
# # # # #
Author’s Comment Policy:
We have seen these same types of problems with flooding, storm surge and hurricanes. Localities have failed to protect their citizens by forbidding the building of homes and businesses in know high-risk areas — and for many years failed to enact and enforce sensible building codes for the protection of buildings in risky locations. In my youth, homes all over California had beautiful redwood shake roofing — and redwood shake siding — which would dry to tinder in the hot dry California summers, igniting at the first few sparks from distant fires. They are now forbidden, but only after huge loses of homes. It is complicated and causes and results are chaotic in nature.
Where are the codes requiring sensible set-backs from highly flammable local vegetation? And codes specifying non-flammable siding and roofing? And codes requiring adequate cleared roadside verges that won’t turn fire escape routes into graveyards?
I am blessed by living in a modern Eden — the central Hudson Valley of New York State — where we have sensible, four-season weather with few extremes, [almost] no tornadoes, no hurricanes, and no fire storms. The area is heavily wooded but receives so much rain that forest fires, involving trees, are very rare — we do have occasional brush fires. The humidity makes for a bad allergy season though. And we had six to eight inches of beautiful light white snow last night.
I am discouraged by the lack of journalistic standards in general and appalled that the NY Times has reverted to old fashioned Yellow Journalism.
# # # # #