By former USDA Secretary John R. Block
Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by
the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are
all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank
And now for today’s commentary –
Wild fires in California and other Western states have burned more than 1,000 square miles of
timberland and grassland. 14 people have died and thousands of homes have been turned to ashes.
14,000 firefighters are risking their lives. Drought and strong winds could continue until the end
of the year. Last year, the State of California spent $773 million on fire control. Federal
agencies spent $2.9 billion last year.
Isn’t there something that could be done to reduce the destruction? On one side, we have the
environmentalists that want to blame climate changes. They can’t bring themselves to accept the
obvious fact that the forests are filled with beetle-infested dry, dead wood. And that is the
perfect mix if you want a big fire. We need to manage our forests by cleaning out the dead wood and
cutting more live trees. There is a market for lumber.
Liberals don’t want to do anything to manage our forests. Cutting trees and clearing dead wood is
not natural. Don’t mess with nature. My view is that forest land is a resource and it should be
used and managed. If we did that, we wouldn’t have fires as destructive as we have today. I don’t
blame it all on climate change. We have always had natural disasters – hurricanes, droughts,
floods, excessive heat and cold. The Southwest and Midwest suffered through record heat and drought
in the 1930s. Our farms were devastated. We had climate change then.
Controlled burning of the dead, dry ground cover could help. Environmentalists don’t want to do
that because that burning is bad for the air quality. But the fires burning in the West this year
are not good for the environment either.
One way liberals have blocked controlled burning has been to use environmental regulations
protecting endangered species.
The timber industry, environmentalists, and government officials need to get together and take some
positive steps to limit the destruction.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke both support active forest
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Until next week, I am John Block in Washington, D.C.
John Block was secretary of U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.