Running Out of Time: Interview With David Auchterlonie and Jeffery Lehman
Authors David L. Auchterlonie and Jeffery A. Lehman challenge the reader to reconceptualize wildfire suppression techniques and offer innovative, but pragmatic, solutions to addressing the federal government’s refusal to act. This book serves as a hand guide on what is wrong within our forests and how we can fix these issues. It is a necessity for anyone interested in policy, economics, public health, and government. Ultimately, at its core, this book is a warning that we are quickly running out of time.
Running Out of Time: Wildfires and Our Imperiled Forests stands out as both an in-depth critique of the American government for their failure to properly address wildfires, as well as a reimagining of our future. Authors David Auchterlonie and Jeffery Lehman point to climate change and rising temperatures as a culprit for worsening wildfires. Their book centers on how climate change and wildfires are a problem, the way in which wildfires have increasingly grown in size and prevalence, and the disastrous consequences of what will happen if we fail to address our current system of wildfire management. However, the most striking aspect of their book centers on their analytical statistics littered throughout the book and background extensive knowledge on aerial firefighting to illustrate the severity of the issue surrounding wildfire suppression and forest management, as well as the way climate change exacerbates these problems.
How did you two meet each other?
Lehman: We’ve known each other a long time. But it’s kind of a very funny story. I had done some consulting work with one of the preeminent firefighting companies with the President of Aerial Union and I had been with Lockheed as vice president. I got a call in the middle of the day from my old boss at Lockheed and he asked, “What do you know about aerial firefighting?” I just had a meeting with the president of Aerial Union, probably three weeks before that, and said, “Well, why are you asking the question?” He told me, “Well, a friend of mine is involved in it and wants some history on it.” Then the phone rings and it’s David on the other end.
Auchterlonie: We started working together initially just in the aerial firefighting space when we started looking at Aerial Union, a preeminent B3 platform company. So we wanted to see if we could buy those from the bank because the management there, frankly, didn’t take care of the planes and they fell out of favor with the forest service. We went through a pretty significant review, Jeff and I, and did an analysis of the entire aerial firefighting business and then how the contacts were awarded and whether or not it was an economically viable option for us to consider. Long story short, we were unsuccessful in taking the opportunity to acquire those assets, so we decided, ‘that’s too bad’ but we learned a lot. Jeff kept prodding and saying, “You can’t let this die! We got to do something about it. Why don’t we write a book?” At first it was going to be a white paper at 30 pages, now 30 pages are 416 pages in a book.
What inspired you both to ultimately write your book, “Running Out of Time Wildfires and Our Imperiled Forests?”
Auchterlonie: We really spent a lot of time debating. Should this be a vitriolic type of book that’s very critical? Or should it be driven with the intent to be helpful and a resource to any reader about what the options are to deal with the problems ahead of us? Our goal was to help educate and provide some, what we think, pragmatic solutions to what is obviously a significant problem.
Lehman: And it wasn’t just that which was important, it was also to give reporters and news outlets some more background information, other than standing in the forest and watching flames go up, saying “Oh this is a terrible thing!” We wanted to give them some background on why these things are occurring. Everybody wants to beat the government up, but nobody knows how to address the frustrations people have.
How has this book changed your perspective on issues related to wildfires and global warming, if at all?
Lehman: When I think about growing up with Smokey the Bear, it’s important to see what hasn’t happened; it’s the analytics. It’s also old age that puts things into perspective. When you look at this and you look at what’s happened over five decades, nothing has happened. And that’s what changes your perspective. It’s all the would’ve, could’ve, should’ve.
Auchterlonie: Adding onto that, in 50 years, there has been very little in the way of forest management, only clearing forest floors and thinning. Now, with climate change upon us, we can all argue the planet is getting warmer or not warmer, but regardless, the facts are that the forests haven’t been thinned out and the forest floors are more dense as a result. When lightning strikes, this causes the forest to burn. If we don’t clear the forest floor or thin out the trees, then we can expect more and worse fires over time. This is reality. The fact is that forests need management and they haven’t been managed.
What is the main message you both hope people draw from your book?
Auchterlonie: First, be educated about the problem. The problem is very complex, but we hope that the Forest Protection Zone (FPZ) concept and public-private partnership becomes a reality because it’s a more likely way of approaching the problem of forest management, carbon issues, and wildfire suppression on a local level.
Compared to other books discussing wildfires, what makes your book unique?
Auchterlonie: A couple of things, one is that our book is very facts-driven, it provides solutions, it has recommendations for a path forward, and we know of no other book that provides this kind of data or analysis supporting the recommendations. We’ve looked at every book on wildfires and nothing compares to what we’ve put out.
Lehman: A lot of the books out there are very personal, they’re individual stories. But this is supposed to basically be a handbook.
Auchterlonie: We tried to write the book with the goal of educating. We tried to put ourselves in the position of somebody reading the information. As I finished writing it, I tried to ask myself, “Are they going to understand what I’m saying?”
Lehman: This book has been read so many times that the manuscript is nothing but letters. But a sense of humor never hurt anybody. If you don’t have a sense of humor when dealing with these problems… Oh lord.
In your foreword, it is mentioned that we are “literally loving our forests to death,” could you expand on what is meant by that?
Lehman: You will hear almost anybody that has any experience with forests express frustrations when trying to do a job and being stopped at every point. Regulatory wise, lawsuits, everything! It has led to the problem that we’ve got. I would hate to put words in Tom Boggus’ mouth, the man who wrote the foreword, because he was the State Forester for the state of Texas for almost 20 years. He brought a lot of change to the state of Texas through some very innovative programs, so his view of this is exactly what he said: We’re loving ourselves to death because we’re not doing the things we need to do.
What made you first realize that the current way we address wildfires is ineffective?
Lehman: I’ve got a one-word answer: History. All you have to do is look at the history of what hasn’t been done. That’s all it is, history. The book charts exactly what has happened from the beginning of the Forest Service.
Auchterlonie: History is the right answer. Think about the westward movement to populate the western United States. Forests were pillaged during that period of time and clearly there was a need for government intervention in the early 1900s – the correct decision I think. But now the agencies have grown from where they were through the spaghetti communication systems. It’s pretty unbelievable that this is what evolved over time and is now a very ineffective managing process that we have today.
How did each of your backgrounds in management expertise and corporate consulting, respectively, contribute to your unique perspectives on the inefficiencies of wildfire suppression and forest management?
Auchterlonie: I think both Jeff and I have different experiences, but fundamentally we are very good at assessing organizations. We have years of experience and, in my case, I was a corporate turnaround manager, meaning I went into distressed businesses, was in charge of making hiring and firing decisions, implementing strategies and incentive programs, reorganizing the structure of a business, and its strategy – all with the end goal of providing enough financing to complete a turn around and get results done. Both of us had very different, but analogous careers.
Jeff was with large Fortune 500 companies, where he has actively been involved in assessments. Between the two of us, we have unique management skills and look at problems as senior executives would look at a problem and say, “How would we address this logically to come up with a series of recommendations and solutions?”
When Jeff and I took on this project, we basically said, “Let’s use our skill sets to address this problem because of our experience with the Aerial Union, then develop a series of observations about what is occurring, and create recommendations.” We had a lot of debates about recommendations. Internally, it was a good process for us to understand: First, do we have our heads screwed on right about this problem? Second, does it make sense that we could actually go to print with something like this and practically think this is a logical series of solutions?
We get asked that question a lot, “What qualifies you guys to make these recommendations?” We have a couple of short answers. One, Elon Musk sent a spacecraft into space, but he wasn’t a NASA scientist. Two, Alexander Hamilton wrote 70% of the Federalist papers and he wasn’t a constitutional lawyer, but certainly influenced the formation of the Constitution. We’re not considering ourselves to be Elon Musk or Alexander Hamilton, but logical people can think about logical solutions to solve problems.
Lehman: To David’s point, you have to be analytic, but you also have to be able to open to the discussion that he mentioned, which is the back-and-forth and understand somebody else’s perspective. It’s the interpersonal side of that, which he and I have had a lot of success with over the last years.
How do you think your experience came through in your book and proposed solutions?
Auchterlonie: In each chapter, we identified a specific topic and the shortcomings as a concluding thought, whether it be the organizational structure, mechanical equipment, carbon management, or forest management. For each of these topics, we analyze and then come to a series of topical conclusions in that chapter about the possible solutions. Then, we bring it forward into a concluding chapter, where we actually make the series recommendations. We thought it best to summarize by chapter and then include a chapter dedicated to recommendations, a Reader’s Digest, if you will.
You both mention that a major impact of wildfires are property damage to houses and communities. How do you think insurance titans, like Allstate and State Farm American, choosing to leave CA reflect this massive increase and severity of wildfires?
Auchterlonie: This is a very timely question. As you know, both Allstate and State Farm pulled out of the home market in California for fire insurance. So, for those homeowners, they have no insurance. Those individuals typically reside in what is known as a wildfire urban interface area (WUI). Insurance companies become very sound at identifying those WUI areas and then assessing the risk in homes associated with WUI areas. Premiums go up or homeowners, at some point, are uninsured. Now, the rest of us in California will face higher premiums to pay for the cost of our own insurance because the market has gotten smaller in terms of offerings. Fewer insurers out there means insurers left in the market will get to charge higher premiums, which they will and are doing.
What will happen, I think, is that it may be a benefit to the process we discuss because as homeowners have more and more costs for insurance with this type of issue, there will be an uproar about that. First to the insurance commissioner, then to the legislatures of the states, and ultimately flow into the federal discussion. Ultimately, it’s going to be a ground swell of discontent by constituents about the higher cost of providing insurance and to go without insurance is an unacceptable solution. It only puts the homeowner in tremendous risk, which shouldn’t be the case. Unfortunately, I think we’re in a process that will take a while for people to be aware this is going on, but it’s real and it’s happening now. The reaction from the constituents in these states, like California, Georgia, and Florida, Midwest, and even the South are now going to have higher rates because of the fires in those areas. It’s a serious problem and it might help elevate the conversation.
Lehman: I think you can add to that all of the other natural disasters that [insurers] are covering. People are raising the issue of national wildfire insurance. But now everybody else is paying for you to live where you’re living, when you shouldn’t live there because it’s dangerous.
Auchterlonie: The insurance companies are spreading around. If you’re in the insurance business, can I nick a homeowner just as a homeowner? – Or can I get him on something else? The losses are real, they’re not insignificant losses anymore. You’re talking about billions of dollars on major fires for each event, and cost isn’t going down. Our estimate of the economic costs is $50 – $300 billion a year. And that number is frightening to us. This cost-benefit really needs to be discussed and have a conversation about. It’s a stark reality that insurance rates are going up and that might be the catalyst needed to have the national conversation required.
To what extent, if at all, do you believe that the perpetual creation of bureaucratic agencies, groups, and committees between federal bureaus is simply a way to make the government appear as though it is addressing issues surrounding wildfires?
Lehman: Bureaucracies, by nature, expand. Congress makes absolutely no demands on the people running these agencies. But when you look at what’s done, the problem is with bureaucrats. They are not capable of making a decision like a businessman would do. I think that sometimes businesses believe these guys can do that. They’re not trying to do that. I don’t know how someone can’t say, “First, put out the fire. And then let’s talk about everything else.” But somebody will be afraid to say, “Put 10 aerial firefighting planes on that.” This is a bureaucratic response. It’s going to cost me tens of millions of dollars. Without thinking, if I don’t do that it’s only going to cost me $3.8 million. But this is going to kill people, burn things down, and ruin the economics of the forest. It’s just disconnected thought. I don’t think there’s an answer on how to stop it. The question is, how do you teach it to think differently?
Auchterlonie: “No government ever voluntarily reduces itself inside. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on Earth.” – Ronald Regan.
Why are these agencies not advocating for more funding to be allocated to forest management efforts?
Lehman: I don’t know what the answer is to that question, but they don’t – and they should. I think it’s because people fear the relationship that should be the agency speaking to Congress that they need money and why, instead of saying “Oh no, we got everything we need.” That’s nuts! They don’t, and they know that they don’t.
Auchterlonie: I think there’s a balance. In the Employee Survey of the leadership for the Forest Service, we found that of all the federal agencies, the employees at the Forest Service have the lowest grades of their leaders compared to any other federal agency. This says to us that it’s not just one year, it’s several years in a row that this survey points to the same thing. It says that there’s a lot of very good people in the Forest Service, but what challenges us is the senior level personnel who go to Congress and are not transparent and do not provide all the information necessary. As a result, they use desperate facts that are not supported in many cases.
The latest example is the U.S. wildfire crisis strategy that the Department of Agriculture produced with the Forest Service. They are going to increase the thinning of the forest to a grand total of 20 million acres over 10 years. That sounds terrific, great headline! Well, over 10 years, that’s 2 million acres per year. They don’t tell you they’re already doing thousands of acres. So you’re going to incrementally add 200,000 acres to the thinning process? But insects are consuming 5 – 7 million acres per year! So you’re never going to get ahead. And they don’t tell you that. To me, that’s the sin at the leadership level. The people at the junior and middle-management level know that they're not stupid. So what reaction do you get internally? Conflict. But you can’t go against your boss because you’ve got to protect your career. It’s an inherent nature of bureaucracies that we’re dealing with and somebody in Congress has to stand up and say, “Baloney!”
We’ve sent this book to every member of both committees, the House and the Senate, so Congressmembers have it in their hands if they want to look at it and read it. We’ve sent follow up letters saying, “Please read it. Please contact us if you have any questions.” We have yet to get one phone call. So, until the public becomes much more vocal about the problem, the likelihood is that it will continue to be status quo, just another annual wildfire event. It’s a very disappointing and frustrating situation. But Jeff and I are optimistic that we need to pound the table, and we’re happy to do that on our side to spread awareness.
Lehman: It’s got to be locally addressed. The first thing you’ve got to do is make people aware who their congressional representative is! That’s a shocking thing by itself. And that’s where the action is, that guy around town. They don’t spend a lot of time in Washington, D.C. They’re out raising money. But you have to be aware of what the problems are, which is the purpose of our book. We’re trying to make people aware of what the problem is that could kill them eventually. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, but look at the toxicity issues from wildfires. 68% of the population in this country is sniffing wildfires. With what happened in Yellowknife, early June, this was a huge wakeup call to everybody on the East Coast.
When discussing the occurrence of lightning versus human caused fires, you both mention Smokey Bear’s claim that every 9 out of 10 fires are human caused (p. 71). However, in your analysis, you found that only 4 out of 10 fires were of human origin. Why do you think the Forest Service made such a claim?
Lehman: Smokey Bear is full of it. The numbers are all over the place, it’s insanity!
Auchterlonie: We even chuckled about this and contacted the Forest Service for images of Smokey the Bear in our book. They said, “Forget it, show us the beginning and the end of your chapters before we let you do that.” Smokey didn’t make an appearance in our book.
Lehman: We hadn’t even written the book! I think we had two or three chapters. The Forest Service says to me, “Well, we want to read the chapter before and we want to read the chapter after it. Then maybe send us the whole book.” I said, “The whole book isn’t even written yet!” The only thing we wanted was to use an image of Smokey. We weren’t going to beat him up!
Auchterlonie: Ultimately, we don’t know why they use the claim that 9 out of 10 fires are caused by humans. You probably have to ask them, but we wanted to show that this is not what we factually found in our research.
Much of the Forest Service’s claim echoes the playbook of Big Oil and Big Tobacco, where they take problems they caused or failed to address and place it onto individuals. For example, Big Oil has placed the burden of addressing climate change onto the average American. No longer is Big Oil the problem, instead it is our fault for allowing climate change to occur and it is our responsibility to fix it. This idea of personal responsibility and blame for wildfires is reflected in the Forest Services’ claims that most wildfires are caused by humans.
Auchterlonie: The reason we wanted to analyze the data was to see whether it was right. If it’s human-caused, the ability to control a fire is much more difficult because you can’t pre-position firefighters or equipment. But if it’s lightning-caused and it can be identified in the 15 western-most states where that lightning is likely to occur, you can pre-position assets. We were trying to determine statistically, the last 10 years or so, where the fires occurred, how many acres were consumed, size of the fires, and how they were caused. As a result we realized the biggest and most severe fires are caused by lightning. If this is the case, because of our technology that exists, we know we can identify the beginning of a wildfire with a 95% accuracy of where it may occur.
Several times you mention that, although larger wildfires occur primarily in the West, more wildfires occur east of the Mississippi River. When comparing your findings to a map of economic mobility, it correlates with the finding that people in the deep south are also less likely to move upwards socioeconomically. If a fire grows into a wildfire, how may a lower socioeconomic state combat it when they have less money?
Auchterlonie: I think it’s fair to say that every state has a different access to financial resources based upon their own demographic. As to fires east of the Mississippi, historically those fires have been very small. Although there is a large number of them, typically they are 30 acres or less in size and can normally be detained by local firefighters. Although, this is not always the case. In Louisiana, at the end of August 2023, 3,000 acres went up in flames. Obviously the resources there were overwhelmed because of the big fire, something they hadn’t experienced in a long time. In the East, Midwest, and South, we can reasonably assume there will be more fires in the upcoming seasons. As a result, resources in these areas will be more constrained due to their own financial resources.
That being said, we believe that there’s been a huge step forward with the Forest Service with a “shared stewardship agreement.” We think that’s a giant step forward in terms of recognizing that the individual states and federal government have a shared responsibility for the forests in those lands. Everybody has got to work together to deal with forest management and wildfire suppression. 33 states have signed this agreement to date. There’s a series of goals to be done in a very holistic, rational, logical way of dealing with forests. Unfortunately, none of those agreements have any funding to them. So states are going to have more challenges in dealing with wildfires because of the major lack of funding.
I don’t know if socioeconomic issues by themselves are causing fires. I think the resources available to firefighters, because of a lower tax base, is more likely the problem in terms of trying to suppress wildfires and manage forests.
With recent battles between Republicans and Democrats over settling the nation’s growing budget deficit, how do you think this will/has impacted the way bureaucratic agencies, like the Forest Service, can advocate for more funding to be allocated to wildfire suppression and forest management?
Auchterlonie: Despite national gridlock, it’s really up to the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management and Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service to really advocate for more budget in their respective departments. A great way to start this conversation would be to point out the U.S.’ spending on wildfire suppression and forest management compared to other nations. They could argue that China, Russia, Canada, Australia, and Spain, on a proportionate budget basis, all spend more than we do in the U.S. to manage our forests. If you look at Germany and Finland, who have no forest fires to speak of, they spend more on their forests than we do. The conversation needs to change and the leaders of those two departments need to address them. Worse than that, the American family spends 350 times more than the federal and state governments do on managing forests in proportion.
Why is the forest such a low priority in relation to everything else we do? We have to change that conversation. To me, it’s up to the agencies to start. But Congress has to start doing it as well, and they’re not. They have got to get their act together and start getting funds.
Ultimately, do either of you believe that carbon offset and carbon credit markets have the potential to fund forest management practices? Should we allow federal forests to be offered up as carbon credits to other international entities, such as countries or large corporations?
Auchterlonie: This is really one of the most serious policy questions to be addressed in the short-term. What’s happening is the states, like Washington and Michigan, are starting to sell their forests. The arguments from those legislating bodies is that it allows the state to generate money for education and other services. But this discussion about selling forests for carbon credits is a problem because we’re potentially selling a restriction on the use of the land that is underneath that credit. For example, if the U.S. Forest Service decides to sell 100,000 credits to China in exchange for $10 million and half of the forest burns up in one year, what does China say? They’ll want their money back. If the U.S. refuses to give the money back, then what happens? There’s so many unintended consequences that we don’t know about. What are the land use restrictions we’re going to see change by doing this? If the credit is sold, the land cannot be generally disturbed. This means the forest brush cannot be cleared and trees cannot be thinned. As a result, you’ll have more density increasing over time. Then lightning hits and bingo! You’ve got a wildfire.
Lehman: This is also a national security issue. But nobody can tell you exactly what those carbon credits are. There’s a new company in California that can look at a parcel of land and tell you how many carbon credits it would generate. What they found out was that people were buying carbon credits on huge tracts of land. Guess what? Half of them were absolutely non-productive, you couldn’t have grown rocks on them.
Auchterlonie: It’s an evolving, unregulated market. The U.N. is pushing for the use of carbon credits and advocating it as a vehicle to offset companies’ bad behavior. Carbon credits is an interesting idea, but unless there’s something to change behavior, it isn’t effective.
Lehman: The agencies need to answer a five word question: What are the unintended consequences? The answer is, they aren’t asking these questions.
How did you both conceive the Forest Protection Zones (FPZ) as a solution to wildfires?
Auchterlonie: The current system and structure isn’t working. The shared stewards agreement is an innovative way of thinking about our forests, both wildfire suppression and forest management. But it requires funding, which isn’t going to come from the government at this time. We might reallocate money but discretionary spending available to Congress is very limited in terms of what’s available to move around. So, we think that you’ve got to look at a partnership with somebody else, we argue that is corporate America.
Now the question is, how do you prevent corporate America from taking over this process? We think the governance, if properly set up into zones, and having a board responsible for that zone, comprised of a seven person body – made up of an Indigenous representative from a tribe who is very steeped in forest management, a state forester, a federal forester, a non-government agency NGO, and three corporate sponsors. Four votes can out rule the three corporate sponsors at any point in time and, more importantly, because the nature of the territories and jurisdictions are state, private, and federal, those individual entities have veto authority over whatever that zone council decides.
So, if the corporate representatives wanted to clear the forest for economic purposes, the remaining council members could veto that proposal. Now, the corporate entities could then go to court, but people are more likely to find reasonable solutions rather than go to court. Most of the time, things would get resolved within the entity and council. Fundamentally, I think we can learn a lot from the work of Indigenous tribal members and good foresters. There’s lots of good people working in these agencies that understand their regions and can be beneficial to a good forest management position within these zones. This shifts the responsibility away from the bureaucrats and D.C., making the solution more localized and becoming a model to be tested against one another. We discussed that potentially zones could run a test in one region versus this region, comparing it over a 15 year timeframe. But this isn’t a five year proposition, it’s a 100 or 200 year proposition.
What potential barriers do you see that would prevent it from being signed into law?
Auchterlonie: It’s the same type of things we’re seeing now: study, study, study. Just try one proposal, see if it has any impact at all over a five year timespan. But to not do anything in this environment, I find it criminal in so many ways. We are aware of the problems and we are not willing to find another way to do things when under the government’s own legislation. If you look at any of these people’s legislation, they call out the idea that there should be more use of public-private partnerships. So if there’s a sense that this should be done, then let’s do it. Individual bills keep being introduced and having a big ‘fanfare’ by the local Congressmen. Every year there’s a new ‘fire bill,’ but it’s a bunch of baloney! It’s not solving a problem, it’s just fanfare so they can get reelected. But that’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re talking about a long-term problem that needs a solution. Fortunately, we’re probably getting to the point where there’s more interest about this because of higher insurance rates and Congress doesn’t have too many more places to go to get more funding.
Lehman: A good friend of mine was on the commission in 2002 and made a 147 page recommendation to the Attorney General and Forestry Service, but I don’t think any one of them was enacted. In 12 commissions and 10 years… these commissions cost money! They created a commission and they have 90 days to come up with a recommendation of what to do about wildfires. 90 days? That’s nothing! That’s the bureaucratic thinking that comes along with this kind of stuff. We have to recognize there will be problems with any kind of recommendations given under such a strict deadline, but nothing will be perfect. We just have to try something!
This has to happen from the ground up. People have got to start saying that enough is enough and go talk to their representatives. The only way to make Congress change is for people to force the government to change. People are going to have to decide whether to pay mortgage or insurance, if they can get insurance at all.
Do you believe there will eventually be a breaking point that forces the government to finally take action and address wildfires in the way you have both suggested?
Lehman: I think it’s going to take some time. I think we got a whiff of it for 68 million people this summer in June and I think that was a wakeup call. I’m an East Coast guy, and you guys are used to this. That shouldn’t even exist. The fires in Montana just changed the landscape and all you have to do is look up, it’s black as black can be from the smoke! I think people need to understand that this is public health, it’s a big issue. People couldn’t believe what the acrid smell of smoke was like! Eventually, there will be some sort of breaking point. I don’t know what it will be or when, but I think people are going to get tired of it.
Auchterlonie: Jeff said it well. The more fires that occur, the more intense they will become, with more smoke in places that haven’t had fires in the past because of the change in climate. Unfortunately, Canada is an example of this, with all the destruction they had this summer. I think this will cause a breaking point because of the smoke and realization that this isn’t a way we need to live because we don’t have to.
Lehman: The newspapers have failed to bring the real discussion to the forefront. These wildfires have existed for a millennium. It’s one of the things that makes the tribal issues so poignant is that they have dealt with it for a millennium, they understand it. You look at where the fires were in northern Canada, you can’t get there. You have no idea how far away those places are! There’s no roads, nothing. You can’t fly an aircraft up there, there’s no logistics support from there. The newspapers focused on that, but didn’t focus on the people piece of this that came out of that. First, put out the fire. Then let’s talk about everything else that needs to happen.
If we don’t address the issue of growing wildfires according to the solutions you both present in the book, what do you believe the consequences will be? What impact will this have globally? And how will this affect climate change?
Lehman: I think one of the consequences you get out of this is the public health question. We talk about carbon sequestering in the book, but as a country we aren’t thinking about the carbon we’re emitting burning these forests up. The question is, are we a sequester nation or are we an emitter? The emissions from these forest fires are extraordinary! The particulate matter from the smoke isn’t just wood, it’s all kinds of stuff. This is also an economic issue. The cost of living isn’t going down, people are going to have to choose between insurance and their mortgage.
Auchterlonie: I think it’s an economic problem and public health issue. I think we’re going to find that the smoke and incidence of wildfires increasing over time will be the catalyst for the discussion forward on what to do.
How can people get involved and advocate for change over how wildfires are ineffectively addressed?
Lehman: This book is meant to help people at the agencies and in Congress think about this problem. It wasn’t meant to be a whistle blow, it was meant to help somebody think through the critical issues, but it’s a political campaign. You want to change how Congress interacts with the agencies. You have no standing to do this as a private citizen, the only standing you have is with that guy who represents you. That’s it, and he has to get the message loud and clear. The action has to be local, if that guy doesn’t think he’s going to get reelected, then he might do something. People have to understand, this is my money, your money, David’s money, it’s everybody’s money! You have to act like the money that you get in your budget is like your own company.
Where can people purchase your book?
Lehman: Independent bookstores are always a good place! Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million. One of the things that we would like is for universities to pick this up in their library so it’s available. You can also see more about our book on wildfiresinamerica.com.
Are there any other projects or platforms you would like to promote?
Auchterlonie: We hope we can get a documentary put together to get the message out more than just the book. If that happens, it’ll represent another call to action, get people to respond, and stir some things up a bit.
You can find more information on how to contact your local representatives here.
Disclaimer: The author of this article was provided a free copy of the book, Running Out of Time: Wildfires and Our Imperiled Forests.