You often hear doctors and others point to tort reform as a key to reducing the cost of health care. The idea is that by limiting huge payouts for malpractice, doctors will avoid so-called defensive medicine.
So how about forest fires?
Stephen Pyne, perhaps the most respected forest fire historian in the U.S. if not the world has long pointed out that if you want to eliminate forest fires, eliminate forests. But there has long and remains the view that a forest manager can prevent forest fires that aren’t started by others carelessly or intentionally.
It takes proper thinning, fuel removal, fire vigilance and access for firefighters. When a forest owner or an employee is negligent about any of these things and a fire escapes, then they can be sued.
California Gov. Jerry Brown wants to reform forest liability law to help the state’s forest industry. SFGate.com’s Bob Egelko reports that Brown is pushing legislation that would only allow the state or federal government to recover in a lawsuit “quantifiable” damages in public park and forests.
The federal government and some environmentalist oppose the measure in part because they worry the aesthetic and ecological values that would be lost in fires would not count. But in a fire-dependent ecosystem as much of the California forests are, the fire is not destroying the ecosystem even if it doesn’t look as pretty as a green forest.
You can try to educate juries about this, but a good prosecutor need only show the blackened remains of even an area burned just right for the health of a forest to make their case for added damages.
It seems ironic that the federal government, which holds far more forests California than any other owner is fighting Brown.