Saturday, August 22, 2015

Wildfires creating an "unprecedented cataclysm." Why didn't we create a new Civilian Conservation Corps?

(A CCC crew fights a wildfire. Photo courtesy of Oregon State University Special Collections & Archives.)
Wildfires are currently ravaging the western United States - 13 people have died, hundreds of thousands of acres have burned to the ground, buildings have been destroyed, homes have been lost, Native American land has been damaged, evacuations have been ordered, vacations have been cut short, vehicles have caught on fire on highways, U.S. soldiers have been deployed, firefighters haven flown in from New Zealand and Australia, and, all told, "Nearly 29,000 firefighters...are battling some 100 large blazes across the drought-and heat-stricken West...more firefighters on the ground this season than ever before" ("Wildfires explode in size as high winds blast region," Associated Press, KOMO News, August 21, 2015).
Could this level of destruction have been prevented? Yes. Unequivocally...Yes. We could have created a new Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to reduce wildfire risks, for example, building more firebreaks, building or improving service roads to reach hard-to-access areas, and removing wildfire fuel (dead trees, dry vegetation). All these things, and more, the CCC did from 1933 to 1942 (as did other New Deal work programs, for example, the WPA).   
Let's look at Washington, for example, where Governor Jay Inslee has described the fires burning in his state as an "unprecedented cataclysm," and where President Obama has just declared a state of emergency, and where, "For the first time in state history, Washington’s department of natural resources (DNR) is accepting volunteers to assist with fighting fires and to donate equipment" ("State of Emergency Declared As Wildfires Create 'Unprecedented Cataclysm' in Washington," Common Dreams, August 21, 2015). In Washington, the CCC engaged in many fire prevention and firefighting activities. Consider the following assessment:

"There are usually many factors that contribute to the total acreage lost to fire each year, but it is interesting to note that on the state and private forest land in the state of Washington, the average acreage burned over each year during the CCC program was 65,000 acres or just half the annual acreage loss during the preceding ten year period." (Don Lee Fraser, environmental consultant, in Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942, by Perry H. Merrill, 1981, p. 188)
So, if the CCC was so effective, why didn't we create a new CCC several years ago, especially in view of the fact that unemployment was so high and wildfires have been causing higher-than-normal problems for many years? (Note: Unemployment is still high - much higher than the main official number that is reported every month. See, e.g., here, here, and here.) 
Well, there are several reasons: First, most Americans don't understand (or even know about) the history of the New Deal, so they don't know that there are alternatives to the status quo. Second, most wealthy Americans are opposed to the creation of public job programs for the unemployed, actually preferring that the jobless remain unemployed if they can't find a private sector job. Third, most of our political "leaders" are way too busy seeking out bribery campaign money from the wealthy to be bothered with wildfire problems. Fourth, conservative politicians have been securing tax breaks for the rich, excusing corporate tax avoidance, and protecting illegal tax evasion, for decades, thereby depriving the nation of much needed revenue - revenue that could fund fire prevention activities. Fifth, the corporate-controlled mass media rarely mentions the vast fire prevention and firefighting activities of the CCC - thereby keeping Americans uninformed about effective government programs. And sixth, when new CCC-type programs have been promoted, they've been routinely blocked, ignored, or ridiculed by Republicans, Tea Partiers, and conservative Democrats (see, e.g., "Senate GOP Blocks Veterans Jobs Bill," CBS News, September 20, 2012).

Unfortunately, unless there is a political revolution, wildfires will probably get worse. And a political revolution seems very unlikely since American voters continue to support corporate-bought Democrats and tax-breaks-for-the-wealthy Republicans, i.e., politicians who have zero interest in reviving beneficial and proven programs like the CCC. These politicians, scratching their heads, ask: "I don't would a new CCC benefit my Wall Street donors??" 


  1. I might add that that a combination of state and national budget cutting by the Conservative Revolution jacobins for fire prevention and fighting (fire retardent dropping planes that are more then 20 years old for example), combined with Evironmental extremism that bans any and all human activity to be a deadly combination. Wild areas have to be managed. Dead brush and trees have to be cleared or else you wind up with giant areas of kindling and the resulting fires being so hot that the ground is made sterile. In that, yes, a CCC program is perfect.

    1. Yep, like so many things, extremism is not good. Anti-tax extremism (like the infamous Grover Norquist pledge), extreme environmentalism that allows for no compromise, and run-amok logging, can all be problems. Moderation and compromise would help us better manage our forests and parks.