Opinion: California’s mountains are more dangerous than ever. Stay out of them

 The Caldor fire is reflected off Caples Lake near the Tahoe-area Kirkwood ski resort on Sept. 1.
The Caldor fire is reflected off Caples Lake near the Tahoe-area Kirkwood ski resort on Sept. 1.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. It’s Labor Day weekend, and every national forest in California is closed because of wildfires — that’s a lot of land. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

I start with the closure because so much of the bone-dry recreational land adjacent to the Los Angeles area is indeed managed by the U.S. Forest Service — how fortunate we are to live so close to the Angeles, San Bernardino and Cleveland national forests. While the Southern California mountains have made it through most of the summer untouched by the kinds of cataclysmic burns we suffered last year, the rest of the state is suffering through an unprecedented fire season. I take it back — “unprecedented” is the wrong word, because it was only a year ago that California set the single-season record for acres burned, topping the previous mark set in ... 2018.

Yet, here we are, grizzled veterans of wildfires, and we still have to evacuate forest settlements like South Lake Tahoe from a fire that began many miles away, proving once again how unprepared we are for climate change, according to The Times Editorial Board.


You don’t have to go that far from Los Angeles to find communities facing similarly grim futures. Nearly 50,000 people live amid kindling in the San Bernardino Mountain’s pine forests and chaparral; other long-established communities dot the San Gabriel and San Jacinto mountains, and residents of foothill communities in the not-so-exurban areas of Los Angeles are routinely made ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

So please, do your Labor Day recreating somewhere else besides the state’s forests and mountains. Much of the Angeles National Forest is still off-limits anyway after last summer’s Bobcat fire, but still try to resist the temptation to motor through the San Gabriels on Angeles Crest Highway or retreat to Big Bear, Lake Arrowhead or Idyllwild further inland. Even car exhaust has been known to cause major forest fires, and just this summer emergency crews quickly snuffed out what could have been a disaster near Mt. Baldy after a vehicle caught fire on a mountain road.

The bigger issue this raises, of course, is how climate change might affect our ability to interact with nature in fire-prone areas. It’s a pressing question in California, where our abundance of pristine land under immense stress will be increasingly off-limits to humans as global warming worsens. But for now, at least for this Labor Day weekend plus two weeks, we have our orders: Stay out.

Roe vs. Wade has been effectively overturned, and in a more dystopian way than anyone imagined. Donald Trump lied a lot, but he didn’t when he promised to tilt the balance of the U.S. Supreme Court so much that Roe would be threatened. Columnist Jackie Calmes marvels at the bizarre Texas law that the justices allowed to go into effect — it effectively deputizes residents by allowing them to sue anyone involved in an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy — and warns that other states may follow. L.A. Times

And we’re the ones who might recall our governor? Looking at the COVID-19 crisis and abortion law in Texas, it’s tempting to rest easy, feeling safe in California. But no! There’s a chance we will fire our governor on Sept. 14 and replace him with the talk radio flamethrower who once mentored none other than Stephen Miller. Columnist Jean Guerrero examines the racist propaganda painting California as a “third world country” that’s driving the effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom. L.A. Times

Newsom is so much more than the lesser of two evils — he’s leading an exciting experiment in California, a state-level Green New Deal of sorts, all while steering the world’s fifth-largest economy through the worst public health and environmental crises (which he did not cause) in recent history. Much of the recall punditry has been of the “yeah, Newsom’s flawed, but have you seen the other guys?” variety, so it’s nice to see arguments like Ezra Klein’s in the New York Times, and Guerrero’s column last week in the L.A. Times calling Newsom one of the most pro-Latino governors in California history.

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But then you have former state Sen. Gloria Romero, a lifelong Democrat, supporting none other than the talk radio host, Larry Elder. Romero is a single-issue recall voter, and she thinks Newsom deserves to lose his job over the never-ending education crisis in California and that endorsing Elder represents a roll of the dice. Columnist Robin Abcarian does not entirely disagree with Romero’s reasoning: “I hope Newsom is not recalled. Elder would be a disaster for California. But this may be the price the ruling party pays for failing our kids.” L.A. Times

The next threat on the horizon: religious exemptions from vaccine mandates. Columbia University psychiatry professor Robert Klitzman warns that the sincerely held quasi-religious beliefs of some COVID-19 vaccine refusers, and the federal government’s legal loopholes that pressure employers to accommodate them, might put a lot of people in danger: “Websites have sprung up on how to get a religious exemption, with groups such as the National Catholic Bioethics Center and the Colorado Catholic Conference providing online templates for requests. And some religious workers, along with people in other fields, are coaching students and employees on how to evade COVID-19 prevention efforts, including vaccine requirements. Individuals have a right to their religious beliefs, but not a right to harm others.” L.A. Times

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