Calaveras District 4 Supervisor Dennis Mills is the author of a recent blog and op-ed entitled “California’s ‘New Normal.’” The bottom line of his rant (which is a campaign speech aimed at his base) is that environmentalists are responsible for everything that is wrong in our state today.
I have no illusion that I will change his point of view or that of the people who faithfully elect him. But for the rest of us, we need to make some things clear.
The first is that a public servant ought to be above name-calling and putting down his own constituents. Those of us who care about the environment are not only, according to him, “environmentalists,” but “nut-case” environmentalists. I’m sure he would include me in that category. While along with most of his constituents I am a citizen who cares about the environment, I object to being labeled a nut-case, and I truly believe there is no place for name-calling in public discourse. We deserve better from officials on the public payroll.
According to Supervisor Mills, people who care about the environment are to blame for drought, wildfires and power outages. Droughts, he says, exist because we don’t build enough reservoirs to store water. That’s a rather simplistic answer to the complexities of water management in an era of climate change and threats to our water supply. For example, since New Melones Dam was built, the reservoir has, as of two years ago, filled only six times. That’s obviously not due to lack of storage, but to lack of precipitation. There are many, including people who care about the environment, who have been working on issues of water quality and supply for years. In fact, they proposed a Water Element to our draft county General Plan, but our Board of Supervisors failed to include it in the final draft.
Mills’ simplistic view of water policy seems also true of forest management. While Supervisor Mills does not say so directly, his idea of forest management evidently consists only of tree removal. And that often means clear cutting, turning swaths of natural forest into bare patches and tree plantations. People who care about the environment know that this practice leaves the forest more vulnerable to fire (and holds less water in the soil). People who care about the environment are for well-managed forests that employ selective logging and thinning, fuel breaks and controlled burns. While Supervisor Mills likes to complain, local residents have successfully secured funding over the last decade to actually bring those things about. It should be pointed out that most of this year’s destructive fires began in brush, grassland and chaparral, not in forests. Vegetation is simply drier than ever, thanks to climate change and a warming, drying world.
As to power outages being due to a failure to harden our power infrastructure, I would have to agree with Supervisor Mills. But that fault would need to be placed at the door of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. That is the failure of a commercial business – a convicted felon, in fact – which put shareholder profits and executive bonuses before safety.
In the 21 years I have lived in Calaveras County I have been sadly disappointed that our Board of Supervisors has shown little sense of vision for what is possible for our county. Our times require imaginative and passionate leadership, and those qualities have been sorely lacking. We deserve much better than Dennis Mills.
Since I know I cannot change Dennis Mills, the way he sees the world, and the way he votes and governs, I will have to work to replace him on the Board of Supervisors. I do live in his district, and I plan to do just that.
Rev. Mickey Williamson is the organizer behind the recent climate change rally in Angels Camp.