Joseph Wambaugh’s “Smoldering Sickness of the Arsonist” (Commentary, Oct. 28) was informative, as it offered a glimpse into the mind of the serial arsonist. What was disappointing was his foray into the debate on prescribed burns and his uninformed attempt to paint the “environmental lobby” as opposed to this practice. Any search on the Internet will tell you that the Sierra Club, the World Wildlife Fund and the Wilderness Society, to name three prominent groups, are strongly in favor of prescribed fires.
Wambaugh would be better served examining the positions on this issue of property owners who build dream homes in the “middle of nowhere” and of tourism and business groups and those living downwind. What he may have been confused about was the opposition that environmental groups have for giveaways to the timber industry, such as President Bush’s Healthy Forests Initiative.
No one needs to inform the environmental lobby of the value of prescribed management burns. Its intent is to correct decades of poor fire management policy dictating swift and total suppression of natural lightning-caused fires that could have cleared forest floors of thick underbrush, thus preventing more devastating fires. Someone does, however, need to inform the president of this simple natural law: As clouds rise to higher and cooler elevations, water molecules condense and cause rain. As the greenhouse effect, exacerbated by decades of pollution, causes global temperatures to rise, so rise the temperatures in mountain forests and communities. This quite possibly may be why we have an extended drought that has weakened trees to the point that they cannot produce sap to kill bark beetles in forests such as the one in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Bush needs to take up more important wars, like the war against global warming.
The wildfires we are experiencing here in San Diego and L.A. counties have many consequences. We read of the tremendous loss of life and property as well as the dangers to human health. However, this is only the beginning. The destruction of vegetation means loss of life for the millions of wild creatures that inhabit these areas, and loss of their habitat means they will be unable to return for decades, contributing to the already rampant species extinction.
Wildfires are due to drought, increased temperatures and high-velocity winds. Amazingly, nothing is being said about the contribution of human-promoted global warming to the conditions that are responsible. Also unmentioned is the connection with the record-high temperatures that caused extensive forest fires throughout the western U.S., Europe and elsewhere last summer. Shouldn’t these events be enough to warn us about the dire consequences of our activities? Isn’t it time to join the rest of the world and insist that America assume a position of responsibility on global warming and the environment?
Milton Saier Jr.
Professor of Biology
UC San Diego