By Andy Caldwell

December 21, 2017


One of my favorite movie scenes is from Mel Brooks’ classic comedy “Young Frankenstein”. Dr. Frankenstein sends Igor to fetch the brain of a deceased brilliant scientist to be inserted into the brain cavity of the monster in waiting. Unfortunately, after the brain insert surgery, Dr. Frankenstein realizes the monster’s marbles are not all there. It is then that Igor admits that he dropped and damaged the scientist’s brain and had to pick a new one, a brain that belonged to Abby “Somebody”. Upon further examination, Igor remembered that Abby’s last name was “Normal”. It is in this context that I interpreted Governor Jerry Brown’s proclamation that the record setting conflagrations we are suffering from here on the Central Coast, and elsewhere in our once golden state, are the new California normal. Abby Normal that is.
Jerry Brown and others would like us to believe that the droughts and fires from which we are suffering are a result of climate change. The truth is altogether different. Whereas, droughts and wildfire are natural to California, our drought buffer, in the way of dams and reservoirs, has not been augmented in the last 40 years! What is worse is what has happened to our fire regimes.
Fires in California are typically categorized as fuel-driven and/or wind-driven. These days, I would add a third category, that of policy-driven fires. Specifically, policies adopted in the last 50 years require fire suppression at all costs, roadless wilderness, as well as, prohibitions against control burns, and the ability to remove brush. We also no longer log trees regardless of whether they healthy, deceased or dead! Add these things together and you have the surefire recipe for conflagrations of historic magnitude. It is no wonder that our county now has two of the largest blazes in state history on the record book and we are just getting started.
In essence, we have done everything possible to increase the fuel loading while limiting our ability to fight fires. This is all policy-driven. Fifty percent of our county is owned, managed and exclusively controlled by the federal government. The rest of the urban/wildland interface is regulated by the state and county to the same effect, to wit, no extensive brush clearing, road creation (which double as fire breaks and allow fire fighter ingress and egress) and no control burns.
Moreover, on the same day as the Board of Supervisors was hearing a major update on the Thomas Fire, just last week, they also approved their legislative wish list for the federal and state governments. Absent from the wish list? Any mention of changing policies in our forest and wilderness areas to make fire protection an equal priority as habitat conservation.
After all, this is not an either/or case. For, in the end, all the critters and the habitat we are trying to protect end up perishing in these conflagrations. The only way to protect the flora and fauna and us humans is to limit the fuel loads that threaten us all, as wildfires burn without reservation or discrimination.
Andy Caldwell is the executive director of COLAB and the host of The Andy Caldwell Show weekdays from 3-5 p.m. on News- Press Radio AM 1290.