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Expert Available on Wildfire Policy and Southern California

As wildfires continue to rage across Southern California, burning more than 400,000 acres and destroying more than 1300 homes, people are beginning to ask, “Does this have to happen?” “What can we do to stop this from happening again?”

Char Miller, an expert in U. S. environmental politics and policy, and federal public-lands management, is available to answer these questions as well as:

  • If we have to evacuate 500,000 people in San Diego in the face of raging flames, what are we doing wrong?
  • Why are the politics of fire as supercharged as conflagrations themselves?
  • What makes Southern California so prone to wildfires, and do other places burn like Southern California?
  • What changes are necessary in urban development to decrease fire danger to Southern California residents?
  • What is the role of urban planning in mitigating fire danger, and why are more rigorous regulations essential?

Miller, a visiting professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College, notes that:

“We have a couple of options. We either accept that we will burn out every few years but don’t expect massive amounts of money being spent on rescue. Or, we pay the taxes that are required to underwrite a full-fledged, fire-fighting operation on an annual basis, which neither Californians nor anyone else seem quite willing to do.”

“L.A. burns as does Australia, British Columbia, Indonesia, and the Mediterranean basin --anywhere in fact where there are fire-adapted tree species. Putting Los Angeles in its proper context is the only way to understand why Malibu, Lake Arrowhead, and San Diego regularly burn. It is also the only way to develop rigorous restrictions on urban development that will bring it into line with the realities of fire in the Southland.”

“One thing flood-prone areas know post-Katrina is that you don’t allow people to live in landscapes that you know will kill them. Fire is much more predictable and recurring than floods. The question is why do national, state and local regulations prohibit or discourage people from living in low-lying areas or make it impossible to get flood insurance when there are no such regulations to prohibit people from living in wildfire ecosystems.

“Yes, this would pose a problem for California. Yet we’re spending billions fighting this fire and spent hundreds of millions in 2003. You’d think we’d get the hint.

“What’s interesting is that Australia, India, British Columbia and elsewhere are wrestling with same problems. They’re living in ecosystems that burn up all the time, because that’s what they do. At an international conference last week about climate change and forest fires, every single country in the world is wrestling with these same issues: population growth and the sprawling presence of human beings.”

Miller is the author of Ground Work: Conservation in American Environmental Culture (2007); Gifford Pinchot and the Making of Modern Environmentalism (2001), winner of the 2002 Independent Publishers Association Biography Prize; and co-author of The Greatest Good: 100 Years of Forestry in America (1999; 2nd ed., 2004). He is also the editor of the forthcoming Cities in Nature: Urban Environments in the American West(University of Nevada Press) and Fluid Arguments: Five Centuries of Western Water Conflict (2001), among other volumes and scores of articles in professional journals.

A visiting professor at Pomona College for the 2007-08 academic year, Miller is teaching Crisis Management: The National Forests and American Culture, Water in the West, Environmental History, and Cities by Nature: Time, Space, Place.

He is based at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, where he has been a member of the history faculty since 1981 and director of Urban Studies since 2001. In 2007, he was named a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians and in 2002 was recognized as a Piper Professor, a state-wide honor awarded by the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation for excellence in teaching and service to higher education in Texas. He earned his Ph.D. from The Johns Hopkins University.

Char Miller can be reached at his office (909) 607-8343 or at Char.Miller@pomona.edu