An article on Reason, and the associated video, claim that the severity of the recent forest fires are largely due to environmental regulations that prevent good forest management, along with an insistence on putting out small fires that would have cleared the undergrowth. Quotes from the article:

California warmed 3 degrees over the past 50 years, but that's not the main cause of California's fires, no matter how often politicians and the media say it is.

But for years, governments and environmentalists put out every small fire they could, while also fighting logging.

For years, [politicians] and environmentalists increased the risk of big fires by opposing the thinning of forests.

The town of Berry Creek, California, tried to get permits to legally clear their forest. For two years, regulators delayed approval. This year, fire destroyed the town.

I'm aware of this question which says that government fire-suppression efforts are largely responsible for the amount of fuel in the forests, but I want to know if it was the environmental movement that was responsible for this, and if other environmental policies, especially tree protection in general, were also significant contributors to the severity of the fires.

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    There is a hidden false premise built in to this question title: that it makes sense to assign as single cause/responsible party to a real-word issue.. Perhaps there is a way to ask about whether a particular policy was a factor, rather than making it about assigning 100% of blame? – Oddthinking Oct 8 at 18:53
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    @Oddthinking I know what you mean, but the article lays the blame firmly at the feet of policies promoted by "environmentalists and politicians". I agree that a simple yes/no answer is not possible, but if the quoted article is making hidden assumptions then this is a good place to tease them out and expose them. – Paul Johnson Oct 8 at 18:59
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    The article doesn't say "environmentalists are responsible"; that seems to be your wording. The article says "For years, [politicians] and environmentalists increased the risk of big fires by opposing the thinning of forests." Sensible question: "Does thinning forests decrease the risk of big wildfires in California?" Not sensible: "Are environmentalists responsible?" because sparks are responsible, climate change is responsible, the flammability of wood is responsible, the oxygen-rich Earth atmosphere is responsible - it isn't meaningful to pick a single cause. – Oddthinking Oct 8 at 19:05
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    The article also says that "governments and environmentalists put out every small fire they could, while also fighting logging", and (not quoted above) "What actually is to blame, as usual, is stupid government policies." Yes, "environmentalists are responsible" is my one-line summary of the intent of the article, but I believe it to be accurate. And while it may not be meaningful to pick a single cause, that doesn't seem to stop the author. – Paul Johnson Oct 8 at 19:09
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    Re But for years, governments and environmentalists put out every small fire they could, while also fighting logging. That is nonsense. The US Forest Service is in the Department of Agriculture, for a good reason: "The National Forests were originally envisioned as working forests with multiple objectives: to improve and protect the forest, to secure favorable watershed conditions, and to furnish a continuous supply of timber for the use of citizens of the United States." (Source: fs.fed.us/forestmanagement/aboutus/index.shtml) – David Hammen Oct 8 at 20:14

Are environmentalists responsible for Californian forest fires?

No. It was environmentalists (by which I mean people who professionally study forest ecology or environmental science) who have tried to convince the various agencies responsible for suppressing forest fires that forest fires are not necessarily bad but are instead a natural part of the West's ecology.

From its inception, the US National Park System and the US Forest Service held a view that all forest fires are bad. By 1935, this was codified as the 10 a.m. policy, which stated that every fire should be suppressed by 10 a.m. the day following its initial report. It was responsible environmentalist organizations such as The Nature Conservancy who argued against this absolutist point of view and convinced the Forest Service to allow some controlled burns.

What is responsible for California's forest fires is a mix of

  • Climate change, which has made for longer fire seasons, and longer bouts of hot and dry weather.
  • A nonaggressive adoption of controlled burns by the Forest Service in California. The Forest Service in Florida has aggressively begun using controlled burns.
  • A lot of people moving from the cities and suburbs to the US wildland-urban interface who then argued against controlled burns in their back yards. The people who own million dollar homes (and sometimes, second homes) in Sky Ranch area of Salinas California aren't environmentalists so much as NIMBYs.
  • Finally, some environmental groups such as Los Padres ForestWatch who vigorously oppose logging and tend to also oppose controlled burns and forest management, sometimes with lawsuits. The cited lawsuit was a collaboration between a mountain community that feared controlled burns, Los Padres ForestWatch, and Earth Island Institute.
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