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A Farm in California. (Photo: California Department of Food and Agriculture)

While California Burns, Politicians Fiddle: One Rancher’s Story

Ranchers in California ‘own or manage’ 38 million acres of rangelands in the state, both public and private

By Kevin Nelson, November 30, 2022 10:33 am

If Hollywood was looking to cast a real-life rancher for a part in the hit western series “Yellowstone,” Dave Daley would be a prime candidate. He’s as real as a rancher gets.

A fifth generation Butte County cattleman, his family first settled in the Oroville area in 1850. When he was a boy he rode in the last cow drive across the bottom of Lake Oroville before the building of the giant Oroville Dam in the 1960s.

Daley is the walking opposite of that old western insult: “Big Hat, No Cattle.” His cowboy hat fits just right and his ranches in Plumas and Butte counties support lots of livestock, although two years ago one of the biggest wildfires in California history, the apocalyptic Bear Fire, killed hundreds of his cattle and wiped out grazing lands.

He recalled, “Two years ago I received a call that the Bear Fire (part of the North Complex Fire) had jumped the Middle Fork of the Feather River and was tearing through our cattle range.

“I will never forget that day or the weeks that followed. Everything destroyed. Sixteen people killed in the town of Berry Creek and the entire little town obliterated. The community of Feather Falls was destroyed.

“Hundreds of our cows, all the wildlife and the incredible ecosystem above Lake Oroville were completely erased. Forever.”

Daley wrote these words in a September article for the Chico Enterprise-Record, one of three articles by him that have appeared in that paper over the past two years. Each piece recounts, in vivid firsthand testimony, the utter devastation that occurred when the out of control Bear Fire roared across the Oroville-Chico area about 90 miles north of Sacramento.

“I have visited other post-fire landscapes throughout California,” he wrote. “Those fires were horrific, but I have never seen anything of the intensity of the Bear Fire. Literally nothing alive.”

Daley posted his first eyewitness testimony on the impact of the Bear Fire in a 2020 post on Facebook. The Enterprise-Record picked it up and ran it in its pages and it became the most widely read story the paper has ever published, gaining statewide and national attention.

The North Complex Fire destroyed more than 200,000 acres in a year in which four million acres burned across California. Last year wildfires ravaged 2.5 million acres. And while 2022’s relatively mild fire season brought a welcome respite, it is reasonable to expect that come next summer the wildfires will be back and possibly with a vengeance.

David Daley knows this, and for the past two years he has met frequently with legislators and regulators in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. trying to convince them of the need to change California’s and the federal government’s disastrous forest and land management policies.

“So what has changed in two years?” he asked, answering his own question: “Not nearly enough.”

A politically savvy  cattleman (as well as an excellent writer), Daley conceded that those in government generally agree on the need for prescribed or controlled burns, greater thinning of trees, and better grazing and timber policies. But, he said in dismay, “the conversation has resulted in little action.”

In other words, when it comes to politicians and bureaucrats: Big Hats, No Cattle. Lots of blah blah blah while doing nothing meaningful to improve things.

“It is almost as if once it is burnt, the government ignores the problem and focuses resources elsewhere.”

According to Daley, ranchers in California “own or manage” 38 million acres of rangelands in the state, both public and private. Cattle grazing cuts down on grasses and other stuff that can burn, lowering the intensity of fires and potentially limiting their damage.

Because of this, Daley feels that ranchers should be part of the conversation on how to remedy the situation because they’re part of the solution. Unfortunately, many in Sacramento and Washington don’t see it that way.

“To be blunt, the government has created impossible legislative and regulatory barriers (the California Environmental Quality Act and National Environmental Policy Act, for example),” he wrote. “Bureaucracy doesn’t work. The wheels are too slow, the hurdles too high.”

Adding, “Sierra Pacific Industries (our landlord on half the range) has aggressively removed the burnt timber for the past two years and replanted millions of trees. The Forest Service has done nothing.”

And so it goes. While California burns, the politicians and bureaucrats fiddle. And with fire season (and the elections) now safely behind us, there is almost zero likelihood that anything of consequence will be done in the near term to put a stop to the Bear Fires of the future.

Fortunately there are people like Daley who live and work on the land and are willing to fight to save it: “Those lands belong to all of us. I won’t forget the Bear Fire. Ever.”

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9 thoughts on “While California Burns, Politicians Fiddle: One Rancher’s Story

  1. California legislators forget independent ranchers & farmers like Mr. Daley, because the ranchers/farmers are INDEPENDENT and therefore NOT DEPENDENT upon California legislators, especially those of the Democrat ilk…

    1. “Democrat ilk” ? You are too nice. I equate “Democrat” with evil, satanism, Communist, liars, and thieves.

  2. “I have never seen anything of the intensity of the Bear Fire.”

    Neither have I. After the fire jumped the river it made a run of over 20 miles overnight, to the edge of Lake Oroville. This was two weeks after the Forest Service, in their infinite wisdom, had been sitting on that fire, thinking they had a grip on it. Wrong!

    The Forest Service could tear up an iron wedge in a feather bed with a rubber hammer.

  3. I hope a huge resistance arises and does what the government won’t do – through nonprofits or other organizations that realize that they can’t rely on bureaucrats and activists to address wildfires. Mr Daley is trying to work with the government which is great. However, at some point tactics have to change if forests, lands and lives are going to be saved. Resistance and protests may be a useful next step.

  4. The Bear fire burned so hot, in so many large areas, it left nothing remaining but ‘blacked sticks’ standing the used to be trees. The fact that what essentially happened just 2 years before, Camp Fire – large loss of life due to no notification lead time, was allowed to happen again in this fire is simply unacceptable. Our governor shakes his fist at the sky blaming ‘climate change’ while these simple failures in emergency mgmt process are allowed to continue is mindboggling. The fact that the majority of the CA electorate continues to reelect him is inconceivable to those of us who both live and travel in rural California. Then again, it’s the ‘city folk’ in the densely populated areas who vote Progressive Blue election after election. Fancy-folk who ‘see’ our forest land on the TV, versus living in it day-to-day…………

    1. “We” didn’t reelect him. I have yet to come across one person, Democrat, Republican or other, who will admit to having voted for him, usually quite the opposite. We have had two demonstrations now showing how easily our elections can be ‘managed’ to achieve the specific outcomes desired by moneyed interests, right out in the open, without serious consequences for the perpetrators. The new rules are obvious; voters don’t matter. Ballots do.

  5. Thank you Mr. Daley, for trying to effect change in California’s disasterous forest management failures. The stupidity in Sacramento and Washington, D. C. is breathtaking, as they watch wildfires every year and blame “Climate Change”. The solution is so simple, but their simple minds can’t or won’t grasp that.

  6. I wish we could fire our government. The rigged ballot boxes and the careerist bureaucrat mindset has failed.

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