Land And Water U.S.A.

Thursday, September 24, 2020


‘Climate arson’ and other wildfire nonsense

Real goal is to avoid responsibility for policies, and increase control over energy, lives, property

Paul Driessen

In what has become an annual summer tragedy, wildfires are again destroying western US forests. Millions of acres and millions of animals have been incinerated, hundreds of homes reduced to ash and rubble, dozens of parents and children killed, and many more people left missing, injured or burned.

Air quality across wide regions and entire states is so bad people are told to stay indoors, where many have hibernated for months because of the coronavirus, but indoor air is also contaminated. Acrid smoke and soot have been carried to Chicago and beyond. Firefighters are profiles in courage, as they battle the blazes for days on end, while all too many politicians are displaying profiles in opportunism.

“If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if more of America is ablaze?” Joe Biden thundered. “Mother Earth is angry,” Nancy Pelosi pontificated. “She’s telling us with hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, fires in the West, that the climate crisis is real.”

Despite finally starting to thin out overgrown forests, California Governor Gavin Newsome resorted to the longstanding party line about his state’s wildfires: Manmade “climate change is real. If you don't believe in science, come to California and observe it with your own eyes.” Washington Governor Jay Inslee agreed. “These are climate fires,” he said. “And we cannot, and we will not, surrender our state and expose people to have their homes burned down and their lives lost because of climate fires,"

It’s ideological nonsense, intended to deflect blame and avoid responsibility for decades of public policy errors and forest mismanagement – and to justify new laws that would multiply government control over energy, industries, jobs, living standards, lives, property, and freedom to choose where and how we live.

One could argue that people shouldn’t have built homes in and near these forests. That they should have been persuaded or compelled to live in crowded urban areas, where crime, riots and Covid run rampant. But they do live in rural areas – and our politicians, land managers and judges have a duty to implement policies and practices that protect their homes, communities and lives, as well indigenous wildlife.

Perhaps slightly warmer or drier summers have made the wildfires slightly more likely or frequent. But decades of laws, lawsuits, fire suppression policies and forest mismanagement practices have guaranteed the buildup of massive amounts of dead and diseased trees, dry brush and grass, and decaying leaves, needles and debris. With every wet spring spurring plant growth that dries up every dry summer, just one lightning strike, careless camper, gender-revealing pyrotechnic or angry arsonist can ignite an inferno.

Because timber harvesting and thinning have been banned for decades, thousands of scrawny trees grow on acreage that should have just a few hundred full-sized mature trees. As of 2017, tens of billions of scrawny trees mix with 6.3 billion dead trees in 11 Western states; state and federal forests in California alone had over 129 million dead trees. Those numbers have most assuredly skyrocketed since 2017, while steadily increasing dry brush and debris now provide even more tinder for super-heated conflagrations.

Flames in average fires along the ground in managed forests might reach several feet in height and temperatures of 1,472° F (800° C), says Wildfire Today. But under conditions now found in western tinderboxes, flame heights can reach 165 feet (50 meters) or more, and crown fires can generate critter-roasting, soil-baking temperatures that exceed 2192 degrees F (1200 C). Wood bursts into flame at 572 F. Aluminum melts at 1220, silver at 1762, and gold at 1943 degrees F (1064 C)! 2192 degrees is hellish.

Most of this heat goes upward, but super-high temperatures incinerate endangered wildlife – as well as organisms and organic matter in thin western soils that for decades afterward can support only weeds, grass and stunted, spindly trees. Western conflagrations jump fire breaks because these ferocious fires are fueled by the unprecedented increase in combustibles that radical environmentalist policies have created. These monstrous fires generate their own high winds and even mini tornados that carry burning branches high into the air, to be deposited hundreds of feet away, igniting new fires. None of this has a thing to do with climate change. To say a 0.1, 0.5 or even 1.0 degree change in average global temperatures would alter these forest fire dynamics defies credibility. To say the monumental fuel buildups in our forests are irrelevant is like claiming a minimally furnished home will burn as easily and ferociously as one filled to the brim with furniture, books, old newspapers and cans of gasoline. The solution is simple, though expensive and time-consuming at this point. Cut the red tape. Remove some of that fuel, so that fires don’t get so big, hot, powerful, and destructive. Clear wider areas around buildings, homes and communities. Create more, wider fire breaks. Build more roads that let people escape the flames. Send the timber to sawmills, to create jobs and tax revenues, and American lumber for affordable homes. Clear out brush and grass under transmission lines – and upgrade the transmission lines. Bolster rapid-response airborne and ground-based firefighting capabilities.

Up to now, all this has been prohibited, litigated and shut down in states that now have horrific fires. Radical Greens have even blocked cattle grazing that would control grass and brush in national forests.

Still not convinced? Look at recent major fires that petered out when they reached managed forests. For years, San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation foresters chain-sawed overgrown trees, harvested better timber, improved timber stands, and used controlled, prescribed burns, weed killer and other measures to keep their forests healthy, protect sacred sites, and preserve jobs and wildlife. They even turn scrubby trash trees into particle board and sell it for furniture, as part the tribe’s timber business.

In 2017, the Wallow Fire, the most destructive wildfire in Arizona history, burned 538,000 acres – but fizzled out when it reached the reservation’s well-managed forest. A year later, the Rattlesnake Fire torched more than 20,000 acres in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest – but likewise faded out when it reached the neighboring White Mountain Apache timberlands, which had also been managed responsibly and proactively, using the same management practices that guide San Carlos Apache foresters.

Similar success stories can be found in the most unlikely place: California. For decades, the Southern California Edison electric utility employed selective logging, prescribed burns and other management strategies in its Shaver Lake Forest. This year’s Creek Fire raged through treetops and several hundred thousand acres in the Sierra National Forest. But when it reached the SoCalEd timberlands, it dwindled into a low-intensity surface or ground fire – which doesn’t incinerate big trees and wildlife.

Back in August 2013, the monstrous high-intensity Rim Fire immolated 180,000 acres in the Stanislaus National Forest. Thankfully the National Park Service (NPS) had been employing prescribed burning and other proactive management practices for years in Yosemite National Park next door. When the wildfire reached the park, it turned into a far less destructive surface fire.

The ferocious Rough Fire of 2015 roared through California’s Sequoia and Sierra National Forests, totally torching 150,000 acres. But it too became a ground fire when it reached Sequoia National Park, where the NPS had also used prescribed burns and other good management practices for decades.

A final point. The raging fires in our long mismanaged forests are not natural. They are not what used to burn with regularity through America’s forests. A century of fire suppression and fuel accumulation means they turn into superheated infernos. Manage them properly first. Then let nature work again.

The lesson? Regardless of what Earth’s climate may do – regardless of who or what may be responsible for any fluctuations – we must take responsible, appropriate, effective measures now. Doing so will save habitats, wildlife, homes and human lives today, and tomorrow.

We cannot and must let more megafires incinerate forests and people for decades to come, under an hubristic, misguided, ideological belief that we can eventually end global fossil fuel use and control planetary climate and weather conditions, thereby somehow making monster wildfires a dim memory. 

Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow ( and author of books and articles on energy, environment, climate and human rights issues.

Thursday, September 17, 2020


Water Criminology Out Runs Hydrology

by Roni Bell 9/17/2020

Years ago I developed Baseline Acre Production (BAP): Ag producer add
s up their past 15 years of production and amount of Water used, then divides by 15 to get an average % as to how much Water is needed to sustain the acre production.
County Commissioners could have used these averages to determine whether or not there was Water available for change of use; then relay the information - "yes we have water available without harming Ag," or "no, we don't have Water."
Water's been moved around so much since then, it's unlikely BAP would work.
Because Colorado's a semi-arid desert, wholly dependent on snow-pack/precip, Governor's Owens, Ritter and Hickenlooper have never been convincing in their argument, "Colorado HAS to meet the population demand!"
The counter to that is "Why?" Why is Colorado, a semi-arid desert, expected to "meet a population demand?"
Colorado does NOT have the water! Period!
And now Governor Polis is looking around for Water.
Of course one area 10,000 acre feet annual can be retrieved, runs in a statutes violating agreement called the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program (PRRIP)).
Solution: Get a Water availability average by adding the past 20 years of State's Water administration records and divide by 20. Pass legislation that lays out something along the line of: Developer may not acquire any new Water. Developer is required to re-cycle Water historically shown to be available in that particular area.
In other words, pretty much an update on the old BAP.
Another solution? Developers would be mandated to full disclosure, by informing those in want of moving to Colorado, "You'll have to choose:" 1) We can build your house here, but we can't get you any Water. 2) We can build your house there, where you'll receive limited amounts of safe, re-cycled Water.
When the criminology is fixed, the hydrology will fix itself.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020


 Revisiting EPA’s Gold King Mine blowout – Part 2  

The Navajo Nation and New Mexico vs. incompetence and bad faith in the USEPA

By Duggan Flanakin

On August 5, five years to the day after suffering from a 3-million-gallon spill of heavy-metal-laden toxic wastewater from Colorado’s Gold King Mine, the State of Utah announced a settlement of its claims against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and several EPA contractors (who thus far have not been held responsible, accountable or liable) for their alleged negligence in allowing the spill.

The notorious, devastating accident turned Cement Creek and the Animas, San Juan and Colorado Rivers yellow all the way from Colorado through New Mexico and Utah and into Lake Powell. The settlement is good news. Yet those whose memories of are faulty at best may not realize that the EPA is still in the throes of a consolidated lawsuit filed by the State of New Mexico, the Navajo Nation, and a group of 295 Navajo farmers and ranchers (and 16 other individuals) who were harmed by the spill.

Indeed, the Obama Administration made it very clear early on that neither the EPA nor the Federal Emergency Management Agency would provide just compensation for the damages caused by the incident, in which an EPA contractor using a backhoe to dig away rock and debris from the adit (mine portal or entrance) opened the floodgates. The spill happened because no one had done any testing to determine the height, volume or quality of water inside the mine.

While the Navajo Nation hired the California law firm Hueston Hennigan almost immediately after the incident to represent its interests, the State of New Mexico on May 23, 2016, was the first to formally file a lawsuit seeking to recover damages from the EPA and its contractors. 

New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn explained, “We tried over seven months to pursue a diplomatic path forward,” but the EPA refused to accept any responsibility for the spill and its aftermath. Flynn estimated that New Mexico would lose $130 million in income, taxes, fees and revenues because of lost tourism, fishing and land use.

The New Mexico lawsuit also named Obama era EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Environmental Restoration, Kinross Gold Corp., Kinross Gold USA Inc. and Sunnyside Gold Corp as defendants and responsible parties. Another major reason for the lawsuit was that New Mexico and the EPA had been unable to “mutually agree” on a monitoring plan that “appropriately protects” state and tribal lands.

At the time, EPA Region 6 spokesperson David Gray asserted that his agency did take responsibility for the cleanup and was working to reimburse response costs and provide funding for observing monitoring plans developed by the state and tribe. His words held no sway and were not backed up by action.

Meanwhile, the Navajo Nation had its own share of frustrations with the federal response to the incident. According to Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch, “The impact has been devastating to our culture and economy, as well as to the peace of mind of our people. With unknown amounts of fine sediment in our water we now face the risk of reliving this nightmare with every major increased water flow event affecting the river.”

The Nation filed its lawsuit on August 16, 2016 – noting that Navajo farmers had had to abandon large portions of their fields in the hopes of salvaging limited plots, and livestock had become dehydrated due to the lack of water that also dried up corn crops.

In filing the lawsuit, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye complained that the tribe had to fight for even the tiny $1.1 million in compensation provided from the EPA – which came only after the tribe threatened legal action. “EPA, we’re holding your feet to the fire. We will not let you get away with this. We will be here,” Begaye asserted.

Then in August 2017, the EPA reversed Region 6 Administrator Gray’s admission of responsibility. In February 2018, however, U.S. District Judge M. Christina Armijo opted to leave the now-consolidated lawsuit intact. Two years later, on July 26, 2018, the EPA again asked a federal judge to dismiss the case [and the Utah case], claiming that crews were already working on the cleanup.

In their filing, the EPA’s attorneys claimed that “Granting any relief in New Mexico, within the Navajo Nation, or in Utah would conflict and interfere with EPA's exclusive jurisdiction over its on-going response action activities and cleanup remedies." [emphasis added] How paying reparations or assisting private, state and tribal cleanup would “interfere with” agency jurisdiction was never explained.

A month later, EPA was hit with yet another lawsuit, this one filed on behalf of 295 Navajo farmers and ranchers from New Mexico. Attorney Kate Ferlic argued that these farmers and ranchers had lost crops and livestock and had to pay to haul clean water because they could no longer use water from rivers that were still polluted with heavy metals and other dangerous chemicals.

U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson immediately rolled the farmers and ranchers suit into the Navajo and New Mexico (and Utah) suits (there was also a suit involving a small number of New Mexico citizens). Once again the EPA sought to have the reconsolidated lawsuit thrown out. But on February 28, 2019, Judge Johnson denied the EPA’s latest ploy.

As of this writing, while Utah has settled with the EPA and withdrawn from the consolidated lawsuit, the other claimants – New Mexico, Navajo Nation and two groups of citizens – are still awaiting compensation for the damages caused by the EPA’s alleged negligence in 2015. 

Five years have passed, and the Navajo in particular are still hurting even as they also battle the health, economic and unemployment consequences of the COVID 19 pandemic and forced shutdown of the tribe’s coal mine and coal-fired power plant. Compounding these problems, restrictions on travel and in-person interviews have slowed the ongoing discovery process such that the projected trial date has been pushed back to fall 2021, further postponing any compensation.

While the Utah settlement may provide some hope for a pretrial resolution of the New Mexico and Navajo (and farmer and rancher) cases, hard-line positions taken over the past five years by the EPA – and the plaintiffs’ determination to finally win some meaningful relief – suggest that, barring some pre-election-day “miracle,” this consolidated case could easily drag on for years.

Duggan Flanakin is director of policy research for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (


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