Forest Fires And Sustainable Development

Amity Shlaes has a good Financial Times column on forest policy and trying to control, plan, and manage “sustainable development.” Here’s a teaser to entice you to read the whole thing:

One way we know the fires are partly the result of federal policy, says Roger Sedjo, a forest expert at Resources for the Future, an environmental think-tank, is because so many fires are on public land. The older trees there (public lands are less logged) are simply more susceptible to fire. Private land, where logging is often less restricted, have seen fewer disastrous blazes. So has the Manitou Experimental Forest in Colorado, which was selectively logged to test the “thinning” hypothesis.

By now the problem of overzealous conservation has been generally acknowledged; many players in the forest fire debate now advocate some form of “thinning”. But environmental lobbies still oppose cutting to such a degree that they are even stopping thinning. A consortium of public and private entities recently wrote a plan for thinning in the area around Flagstaff, Arizona. But legal appeals by environmental groups have so far blocked the plan; and the area is now highly vulnerable to wildfire.

The burning skies of America’s west are not visible in Johannesburg. But they are worth calling to mind as planners consider the future development landscape. Sometimes it is not the development but the sustaining that is the problem.