Fueling the wildfires: California's deadly wildfires show that federal land management policies for the supposed protection of the environment are, predictably, having the opposite effect.The federal eco-saviors ... have created ecological disasters of near-apocalyptic proportions. Tens of millions of acres of once-beautiful forestland for·est·land
A section of land covered with forest or set aside for the cultivation of forests. have been transformed into charred moonscapes and dying, bug infested in·fest
tr.v. in·fest·ed, in·fest·ing, in·fests
1. To inhabit or overrun in numbers or quantities large enough to be harmful, threatening, or obnoxious: , overgrown overgrown
said of a part that has not been kept trimmed.
overgrown hooves put unusual stresses on bones and tendons and allow for distortion of the wall and sole. tinderboxes set to explode into blazing infernos.
--William F. Jasper
"Endangered Property Rights"
THE NEW AMERICAN
October 25, 1999
As we write, the hills of Southern California Southern California, also colloquially known as SoCal, is the southern portion of the U.S. state of California. Centered on the cities of Los Angeles and San Diego, Southern California is home to nearly 24 million people and is the nation's second most populated region, are still smoldering smol·der also smoul·der
intr.v. smol·dered, smol·der·ing, smol·ders
1. To burn with little smoke and no flame.
2. . A recent headline in the Los Angeles Times Los Angeles Times
Morning daily newspaper. Established in 1881, it was purchased and incorporated in 1884 by Harrison Gray Otis (1837–1917) under The Times-Mirror Co. (the hyphen was later dropped from the name). read, "Some Evacuees Resident or transient persons who have been ordered or authorized to move by competent authorities, and whose movement and accommodation are planned, organized and controlled by such authorities. Begin Returning to Homes." Having once lived in Los Angeles Los Angeles (lôs ăn`jələs, lŏs, ăn`jəlēz'), city (1990 pop. 3,485,398), seat of Los Angeles co., S Calif.; inc. 1850. County, this writer is familiar with the hot, bone-dry Santa Ana winds Santa Ana Winds may refer to:
1. Santa Ana wind, a local Southern California reference to Föhn winds, a meteorological phenomenon occurring as a layer of wind is forced over a mountain range -- drying the air -- which then passes over the crest and begins to move downslope -- that fanned the recent catastrophic wildfires. The philosophical thing to do, perhaps, would be to dismiss the widespread devastation as the inevitable result of nature reclaiming what man has interloped upon.
But it is not easy to dismiss the loss of 22 lives, more than 3,500 homes, and more than 750,000 acres of timber and brush. Our inquisitive human nature seeks explanations for tragedies, so we might satisfy ourselves that we (collectively) did everything humanly possible to prevent them and that we will find ways to prevent similar catastrophes in the future.
It is emotionally wrenching to discover that human intervention could have prevented a major tragedy entailing loss of life. Even worse is the realization that, in the case of the recent California wildfires, the evidence shows that human action contributed to the tragedy.
Specifically, federal policies for managing our national forests have created the conditions for more frequent and larger wildfires. And although those policies were supposedly intended to protect the environment, it was entirely predictable that they would have the opposite effect.
Even the GAO Says So
But don't just take THE NEW AMERICAN'S word for it. When Senior Editor William E Jasper warned four years ago that "'tens of millions of acres of once-beautiful forestland'" had already become "overgrown tinderboxes set to explode," he cited an April 1999 U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) study entitled Catastrophic Wildfire Threats. That study, Mr. Jasper noted, warned that "39 million acres on national forests in the interior West are at high risk of catastrophic wildfire" due to unnatural and excessive tree density, massive buildup of undergrowth, disease and insect infestation infestation /in·fes·ta·tion/ (-fes-ta´shun) parasitic attack or subsistence on the skin and/or its appendages, as by insects, mites, or ticks; sometimes used to denote parasitic invasion of the organs and tissues, as by helminths. .
Since that 1999 GAO warning, many experts continued to sound alarms about the impending im·pend
intr.v. im·pend·ed, im·pend·ing, im·pends
1. To be about to occur: Her retirement is impending.
2. catastrophe--but to no avail. Their recommendations were ignored by government officials. One of the experts who repeatedly warned of the coming inferno is Dr. Thomas Bonnicksen, professor of forest science at Texas A&M University. Weeks before the outbreak of the California firestorm, Professor Bonnicksen expressed his grave concern at the mounting danger in California's mismanaged national forests. His August 24, 2003 written statement to the U.S. House Committee on Resources appears prophetic in view of the devastating dev·as·tate
tr.v. dev·as·tat·ed, dev·as·tat·ing, dev·as·tates
1. To lay waste; destroy.
2. To overwhelm; confound; stun: was devastated by the rude remark. fires that ravaged rav·age
v. rav·aged, rav·ag·ing, rav·ages
1. To bring heavy destruction on; devastate: A tornado ravaged the town.
2. the San Bernardino Mountains San Bernardino Mountains, part of the Coast Range, S Calif., extending c.60 mi (100 km) NW and SE through San Bernardino and Riverside counties. Notable peaks are San Bernardino Mt. (10,630 ft/3,240 m) and Mt. San Gorgonio (11,485 ft/3,501 m). area in October:
I have been working in California's forests since the late 1960s. Never have I seen anything more dangerous than the overgrown, beetle-ravaged forests of the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains. I am concerned for the safety of people living in communities surrounded by these forests.
The tragic human, forest, wildlife and watershed losses from the latest California fires not only were predictable, but were predicted, repeatedly, by Dr. Bonnicksen and a host of other forest experts. Yet the government officials responsible for the policies that produced the disaster have not been held accountable.
Nero Fiddles While Forest Burns
How did federal policies set the stage for massive wildfires? In nature, without any human intervention, periodic wildfires started by lightning strikes tend to be small and localized, burning away just enough underbrush to prevent a dangerous accumulation. The Forest Service's long-standing policy of putting out wildfires disrupted the historical pattern of frequent low-intensity fires, resulting in a dangerous accumulation of fuel.
Of course, the Forest Service could put out wildfires without allowing this dangerous accumulation to occur. Historically, the federal government allowed private lumber companies to harvest sufficient timber from federal lands to keep them thinned out and free from incendiary INCENDIARY, crim. law. One who maliciously and willfully sets another person's house on fire; one guilty of the crime of arson.
2. This offence is punished by the statute laws of the different states according to their several provisions. underbrush. But in more recent years, supposedly to protect the forests, the federal government has reduced the timber harvest to arbitrarily low levels and has compounded the problem by neglecting to remove dead, insect-ravaged trees. These supposedly environmentally friendly Environmentally friendly, also referred to as nature friendly, is a term used to refer to goods and services considered to inflict minimal harm on the environment. policies have resulted in the steady conversion of our national forests into tinderboxes full of underbrush and dead wood, awaiting the next spark and gust of dry wind to erupt.
The GAO report Catastrophic Wildfire Threats explained:
The most extensive and serious problem related to the health of national forests in the interior West is the over-accumulation of vegetation, which has caused an increasing number of large, intense, uncontrollable, and catastrophically destructive wildfires.... Past management practices, especially the Forest Service's decades-old policy of putting out wildfires on the national forests, disrupted the historical occurrence of frequent low-intensity fires, which had periodically removed flammable undergrowth without significantly damaging larger trees. Because this normal cycle of fire was disrupted, vegetation has accumulated, creating high levels of fuels for catastrophic wildfires and transforming much of the region into a tinderbox.
There are many other federal policies that are putting our forests at grave risk. They include:
* The banning of insecticides and fungicides This page aims to list well-known chemical compounds, to stimulate the creation of Wikipedia articles.
This list is not necessarily complete or up to date – if you see an article that should be here but isn't (or one that shouldn't be here but is), please update the page has allowed disease and bark beetles to kill once-healthy trees, making them more susceptible to forest fires This is a list of notorious forest fires: North America
Year Size Name Area Notes
1825 3,000,000 acres (12,000 km²) Miramichi Fire New Brunswick Killed 160 people. . As George Melloan of the Wall Street Journal observed in an August 15, 2000 column: "With use of detested de·test
tr.v. de·test·ed, de·test·ing, de·tests
To dislike intensely; abhor.
[French détester, from Latin d insecticides and fungicides banned, disease and bark beetles killed stands of trees, making them powerful tinder for forest fires. Underbrush grew up, further adding to the tinder. A lightning strike could set all ablaze."
* Policies and bureaucratic red tape prevent the timely removal of blow-down timber and trees that are dead or dying from insects and disease. At a July 1999 hearing of the House Resources Subcommittee in John Day, Oregon John Day is a city located about a mile north of Canyon City in Grant County, Oregon, at the intersection of U.S. Highways 26 and 395. The city was named for the nearby John Day River, which had been named for a Virginian member of the 1811 Astor Expedition, John Day. , Dave Traylor, a woodsman, logger, hunter, fisherman and outdoorsman, provided powerful testimony concerning the outrageous polices killing the national forests. "The Forest Service has either been forced to operate or has chosen to operate on contradictions," he said. "When huge stands of timber blow down, the Forest Service refuses to sell it; then they turn around and complain that they lack the funds to operate as they should! They point at the blow-down timber as the cause of insect infestations and terrible forest fires, but they refuse to allow people who are willing to clean it up to do the job."
* The Clinton-era cutbacks in the fire preparedness budget of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM BLM n abbr (US) (= Bureau of Land Management) → les domaines ) dangerously weakened the agency's firefighting capacity. The August 22, 2000 Washington Times reported that the Clinton administration Noun 1. Clinton administration - the executive under President Clinton
executive - persons who administer the law had cut more than $100 million from the BLM's fire preparedness budget, while increasing the agency's land acquisition budget by $11 million. Funds that should have been expended for firefighting essentials, such as tanker trucks, shovels and training sessions for firefighters, were instead allocated for the ongoing Western land lock-up.
* As our national forests were degenerating into firetraps, the Interior Department was setting aside nearly a dozen new national monuments, acquiring millions of additional federal acres in the process. The simultaneous boost in the BLM's land-acquisition budget means that the beleaguered be·lea·guer
tr.v. be·lea·guered, be·lea·guer·ing, be·lea·guers
1. To harass; beset: We are beleaguered by problems.
2. To surround with troops; besiege. agency must protect more lands with diminished firefighting resources.
* The creation of roadless areas eliminates preexisting pre·ex·ist or pre-ex·ist
v. pre·ex·ist·ed, pre·ex·ist·ing, pre·ex·ists
To exist before (something); precede: Dinosaurs preexisted humans.
v.intr. firebreaks and impedes getting fire trucks and other equipment to the fires. In the Wall Street Journal column cited above, George Melloan noted: "One principle of the [Wilderness Act The Wilderness Act of 1964 (Pub.L. 88-577) was written by Howard Zahniser of The Wilderness Society. It created the legal definition of wilderness in the United States, and protected some 9 million acres (36,000 km²) of federal land. ] was that these lands should be left free of roads, which are a 'death sentence for the ecosystem,' in the secretary's words. Certain areas also came to be declared out of bounds for anything manmade, including fire trucks. In short, they were to remain 'wilderness.'"
* The irresponsible use of controlled burns by federal bureaucrats notorious for torching huge expanses of forestland is a prescription for more calamity. Used properly, controlled burning is a legitimate forestry management tool. But fedgov managers seem to be incapable of exercising common sense or heeding the warning of meteorologists Atmospheric scientists
Bandelier National Monument
Archaeological area, north-central New Mexico, U.S. Lying along the Rio Grande 20 mi (32 km) northwest of Santa Fe, it was established in 1916. set a controlled burn in May 2000. That burn, which was conducted despite warnings of extreme danger by the U.S. Weather Service, rapidly grew to a raging wildfire, destroying 44,000 acres of forest, 260 homes, and hundreds of archaeological sites.
Change in Tune
Federal mismanagement mis·man·age
tr.v. mis·man·aged, mis·man·ag·ing, mis·man·ag·es
To manage badly or carelessly.
mis·manage·ment n. of the forests has become so bad that even some former radical environmentalists have changed their views in recent years. Take Rex Wahl, the executive director of Forest Guardians, a radical environmentalist environmentalist
a person with an interest and knowledge about the interaction of humans and animals with the environment. group in New Mexico that had unconditionally opposed logging.
In August 2000, after observing the destruction of nearly five million acres of land by an estimated 64,000 fires, Wahl announced a reversal of his organization's traditional position. "Wildfires are getting bigger, burning hotter, and the effects are more devastating," he told the Washington Post. "It's clear we'll have to take mechanical steps like thinning before we can use fire to restore these forests to a more natural regime."
Ironically, several years earlier Wahl's group had contributed to the conditions spawning the fires by becoming a plaintiff in a lawsuit that sought to shut down logging in A colloquial term for the process of making the initial record of the names of individuals who have been brought to the police station upon their arrest.
The process of logging in is also called booking. New Mexico and several other states in order to protect the Mexican spotted owl. On August 24, 1995, U.S. District Court Judge Carl Muecke--ignoring restrictions on the Endangered Species Act The federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) (16 U.S.C.A. §§ 1531 et seq.) was enacted to protect animal and plant species from extinction by preserving the ecosystems in which they survive and by providing programs for their conservation. that had just been enacted by Congress--granted an injunction "temporarily" closing down all timber harvesting in the Southwest's 11 national forests. Judge Muecke's ruling was severely criticized by then Arizona Governor File Symington and by Arizona legislator Mark Killian. Unfortunately, it took widespread devastation for one of the leading supporters of the ruling to admit the foolishness of it.
Following the extensive coverage of the recent devastating California fires, Congress moved to jump-start previously stalled legislation that would implement many of the provisions of the Bush administration's "Healthy Forests Initiative The Healthy Forests Initiative (or HFI), officially the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003, is a law originally proposed by President George W. Bush in response to the widespread forest fires during the summer of 2002. ," which addresses some of the inescapable points we have discussed, such as the cause-and-effect relationship between excessive fuel build-up in forests and the worsening of forest fires.
Much of the Healthy Forest Initiative was incorporated into the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 (H.R. 1904), now in a conference committee where the differences between the House--and Senate-passed versions of the bill are being reconciled. According to the bill's title, H.R. 1904 is: "An act to improve the capacity of the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior to conduct hazardous fuels reduction projects on National Forest System lands and Bureau of Land Management lands aimed at protecting communities, watersheds, and certain other at-risk lands from catastrophic wildfire, to enhance efforts to protect watersheds and address threats to forest and rangeland health, including catastrophic wildfire, across the landscape, and for other purposes."
The reduction of hazardous fuels in our national forests is undisputedly a worthwhile goal. Obviously, it is better for the government to manage our forestlands well than to manage them badly. But no one is asking the important questions that go to the heart of the problem, such as: Is the federal government itself a main part of the problem? Are the secretaries of agriculture and the interior the best people to oversee this reduction? Do we really need a layer of federal bureaucracy to accomplish a task that can more efficiently be done by state and local governments and private enterprise?
As we have seen, federal ownership and mismanagement of vast tracts of forestland is a big part of the problem of rampant forest fires. Sound constitutional and management principles dictate that the federal government should get out of the forestry business and turn over the national forests to the states. The states, in turn, would be wise to divest themselves of much of these vast estates through privatization privatization: see nationalization.
Transfer of government services or assets to the private sector. State-owned assets may be sold to private owners, or statutory restrictions on competition between privately and publicly owned . Free-market principles and private ownership of natural resources provide better stewardship of the environment than government can ever hope to offer, especially a distant, bureaucratic behemoth behemoth (bē`hĭmŏth, bĭhē`–) [Heb.,=plural of beast], large, fanciful primeval monster, like Leviathan, evoking the hippopotamus mentioned in the Book of Job. . Private property owners possess a much stronger incentive to protect the environment than do government bureaucrats. This is particularly true when the properly is forestland because, as the timber industry reminds us, trees are America's renewable resource. The value of forestland increases or de creases to the extent that its owners carefully manage it.
Private lumber and paper companies have a powerful economic incentive to carefully manage their forestland, to keep access roads well maintained, and to harvest enough wood to prevent a dangerous buildup of surplus fuel. Private timber land is managed and cultivated as carefully as farmland. In contrast, when forests come under federal ownership timber harvesting is done haphazardly, sometimes to excess, often not at all. Access roads, necessary for firefighting, may be shut down to pacify pac·i·fy
tr.v. pac·i·fied, pac·i·fy·ing, pac·i·fies
1. To ease the anger or agitation of.
2. To end war, fighting, or violence in; establish peace in. environmentalists.
Federal ownership of forestland minimizes responsibility for it, following the principle once taught by Aristotle that those things that are owned collectively are "equally neglected by all alike." The most important step that could be taken to provide for better management of our nation's forest is privatization. While this may seem like a novel idea to many people, it has worked very well in areas where private ownership and management of forests has a tradition. Just one example of such private ownership is the forestland owned and managed by the paper manufacturer Finch, Pruyn & Co., Inc., one of the largest private landowners in New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of State. According to the company's website:
Finch, Pruyn has made a deep commitment to protecting the beauty and natural resources of its forests and the wildlife that make their homes there, while continuing to help meet society's ever-increasing demand for forest products. Our professional foresters care for our 166,000 acres of forest in New York's Adirondack region on a sustainable basis, so that the forests will provide open space, wood for Finch Paper and other important products, and homes for wildlife today and for generations to come.
According to the company's neighbors, the above statement is not just empty, corporate self-promotion. The company's forestland is highly praised for its scenic beauty, abundant wildlife, and recreational opportunities for hunting, fishing, hiking, canoeing and cross-country skiing. Adirondack-area property owners and environmentalists named Finch, Pruyn & Co. the 1999 Adirondack Steward of the Year for outstanding forest ownership. Similar exemplary forest management is provided by many thousands of private owners across the country.
With the possibility of private management of forestland such as this, there is no reason to allow continued monopoly control of 191 million acres of our national forests by a federal bureaucracy that has proven itself incompetent, and obstinately ob·sti·nate
1. Stubbornly adhering to an attitude, opinion, or course of action; obdurate.
2. Difficult to manage, control, or subdue; refractory.
3. negligent to the point of criminality. Private owners not only have proven that they manage the forest resources more efficiently, but they can, and do, make their forests available to the public for every conceivable recreational use. By contrast, the public forests have been closing more and more land to human use.
An obvious benefit to professional commercial management of forestland, in view of the recent wildfires in Southern California, is that a well-managed forest, periodically thinned of surplus combustible com·bus·ti·ble
Capable of igniting and burning.
A substance that ignites and burns readily. material, is much more resistant to wildfires than our federally owned lands. Instead of spawning out-of-control fires that destroy thousands of homes, the forests can provide lumber to build millions of homes. The benefits of private ownership, versus the liabilities of continued federal mismanagement, are striking.
The beginning of the solution, as with all problems caused by too much government, starts with Congress. It is time for a truly revolutionary approach to our national forest crisis, an approach that points back toward constitutional principles and common sense. It is time to tell your representatives that instead of taking more of our tax dollars to buy up still more forestland to be destroyed by federal mismanagement, the federal government should get out of the forestry business. It is time for Congress to take these precious resources away from the abusive bureaucrats and truly give them to the American people.