Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Trees of California Need a New Deal

(CCC boys working in Sequoia National Park, California, in 1933. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.)

Trees in California are having a tough time. Millions are dying from drought & pine bark beetles, and millions more are at risk from the state's increasing number of wildfires. Making matters worse, of course, is that conservatives in Congress have shown little or no interest in providing adequate federal assistance to address the problem, know..."limited government," "taxes are theft," "Ayn Rand said we shouldn't help others" and all that other foolishness that we have to listen to every time something needs to be done. So, while the cost of fighting wildfires has risen, federal assistance has shrunk (but don't fret, because as our forests are dying our billionaires are doing better than ever - adding billions and billions to their already-bloated wealth. And that's what's really important to a healthy culture, right?).

There are things that could be done to help California's trees - things that the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) did during the 1930s and 40s. For example, to control pine park beetles, insecticides can be used in certain limited situations, removal of infested trees can be performed in a greater number of situations, and traps can be set. Well gee, guess what the CCC did? They removed dead trees, engaged in pest control, and, in California specifically, protected nearly 800,000 acres of land from tree and plant diseases (Perry H. Merrill, Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942, 1981, p. 112).

There are also things that could be done to help mitigate wildfire damage. More manpower could be utilized, more firebreaks could be created, and more wildfire fuel (dry and dead material) could be removed. With respect to the latter, it was recently reported that "After four years of severe drought, firefighters in California are preparing for what could be a dangerous wildfire season because of bone-dry grasses and an accumulation of dead, combustible trees." Well gee, guess what the CCC did? They built firebreaks, fought wildfires, and removed wildfire fuel. In California, CCC workers performed nearly a million man-days worth of work on fire prevention and fire suppression activities (see previous source note).

The problems facing our environment are complex and numerous, and the creation of a new CCC and/or WPA (which also performed a large amount of natural resource & conservation work) would not solve everything. But it would provide significant help. The only thing stopping us from creating a new CCC or WPA, really, are those in Congress who are more concerned with keeping tax rates historically low for their millionaire & billionaire political donors than with improving the health of our environment. Essentially, our conservative political "leaders" have chosen policy idleness over policy action, for the benefit of the ultra-rich. Maybe, someday, American voters will say "enough is enough," and the trees of California, and our environment more generally, can get a New Deal. Until then, our forests and wildlife will continue to suffer.

(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

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