Where is the Outrage? Thousands of Families are Devastated by Fire, Authorities Ignore Their Cries

The drum beat about dead trees in forests many miles away from communities most at risk from wildfire in California has become so loud that it has drowned out the screams of the families who have lost so much.


The short answer is most likely related to money. Who benefits?

The impact of the Thomas Fire in Ventura County, far from any forest. The canyon to the right provided a fire corridor that helped funnel the flames into the community overlooking the canyon. Who is responsible for approving this development?

But first, some history.

We have been involved in fire policy since the 2003 Cedar Fire in San Diego County, the 273,000 acre wildfire that marked the beginning of the California’s new era of catastrophic mega fires. The creation of the California Chaparral Institute was sparked by the irrational response to the fire by local politicians and radio talk show hosts, falsely blaming both firefighters and Nature for the devastation.

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Posted in Fire, Habitat Clearance, Politics | Leave a comment

Getting Out of Our Heads, Into Our Hearts, Back Into Nature

The California Chaparral Institute exists to help everyone better understand and appreciate the chaparral, California’s dominant and iconic plant community. Our ongoing battles to protect nature requires activities like sending in comment letters concerning ill-conceived habitat clearance projects, attending public hearings, negotiations, and ultimately letting adversaries know that we are more than willing to go to court — and we win. But we have come to the realization that our victories are only temporary, and they will be back at it again. Why? Because there is a systemic problem within our hearts that has not only separated us from Nature, but from each other.

This separation is evidenced by the general response to the 2017 wildfires. Despite the massive losses of life and property, the post-fire response has been similar to all the other past fire events – conferences where the usual players talk at each other without creating solutions, sanitized after-action reports, calls for more clearing of habitat, logging forests far from where our families have been devastated by wildfires, and repealing environmental protection laws, etc. People in authority are unwilling to tackle the difficult problems – land use changes, planning, creative approaches to reduce the flammability of homes and communities from within. For example, the city of Santa Rosa is ramping up more building in the same devastating fire corridor.

Yet, rather than being discouraged, recent realizations have inspired us to change the way we see our mission as advocates for Nature. If we intend to really make a difference, we must go straight to the heart. We discovered through our research on nature centers in Southern California that what matters most to the public is not the content on display, but the enthusiasm of the people who are eager to share their love for Nature.


Devils VIIIb

Sharing his love for Nature, Ranger Dave Numer shares the secrets of Devil’s Punchbowl County Park with visitors.

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Posted in Nature Education | 7 Comments

The Wrong Focus of Fire Policy – Letter to California Governor Brown

We’ve sent an important letter today (with 12 recommendations) to Governor Brown regarding his recent Executive Order on fire.

The basic problem is that the order focuses on forests, many miles away from where wildfires threaten us most. It makes no sense.

The first portion of our letter is pasted below. You can download a full copy of it including our recommendations and an enlightening primer on fire in California here:


Dear Governor Brown,

We have reviewed your May 10, 2018, Executive Order on forests and fire. We are writing to urge you to develop a response to our increasingly flammable environment by focusing on the factors that led to the loss of so many lives and homes in the 2017 wildfires, not on forests far from our communities most at risk.

The current focus on dead trees in forests is especially misguided because all of the wildfires most devastating to communities in California had nothing to do with such forests. And while it is reasonable to remove hazard trees immediately adjacent to roads and homes, it makes no sense to spend millions of dollars to treat entire forests while the actual fire threat facing thousands of families occurs very far away from these forests.

We urge you to break from the conventions that have led to the current crisis and to turn California toward a more rational and effective response to the threat of wildfire. What we have been doing, trying to control the natural environment, is not working.

While large, wind-driven, high-intensity wildfires and post-fire debris flows are an inevitable part of California, the devastation to our lives and communities is not inevitable. We can choose to reject the predominant view that there is little we can do to stop the destruction to communities caused by wind-driven fires, but it will require a significant change in thinking.

Part of that change in thinking requires us to realize that the unacceptable loss of nearly 10,000 structures and 45 lives in the 2017 wildfires and the losses caused by the 2018 Montecito debris flow have little to nothing to do with forests or the treatment of wildland habitat. Most of these losses resulted from building flammable homes on flammable terrain, not the condition of the surrounding natural environment.

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Posted in Climate Change, Fire, Politics | 4 Comments