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Saving Fish Before Firefighters.

During a recent forest fire, help for trapped firefighters was delayed out of fear that it might harm the "endangered" bull trout. Result: The fish were saved; four firefighters died.

A crew battling a wildfire makes a radio request for a helicopter water drop. Fighting forest fires is always hot, exhausting, dangerous work, and in the tinderboxes which are our grossly mismanaged national forests, a momentary delay can be deadly. If you're the radio dispatcher who receives the request, what do you do?

A) Immediately order the water drop.

B) Deny the request because the drop may risk harming an "endangered" fish.

C) Relay the request to "higher authorities" who will dither for hours trying to determine whether departmental policy allows suspension of the fish rules in order help the firefighters.

For any normal, rational person, the decision is a no-brainer. But today, when the supposed interests of "endangered" dung beetles, snail darters, suckers, and gnatcatchers regularly trump those of mere humans, federal employees are not allowed the luxury of normalcy and rationality.

On July 10th, four firefighters battling a blaze in Washington state's Okanogan National Forest were killed by the fire, after waiting more than nine hours for a requested water drop. Trapped by flames, Tom Craven, 30, Devin Weaver, 21, Jessica Johnson, 19, and Karen Fitzpatrick, 18, tried to survive by huddling in their fire-resistant survival tents. The tents merely served as their death shrouds. A co-worker, Jason Emhoff, survived but was severely burned.

The tragic death toll was very nearly much, much higher. Seventeen additional fire crew members and two hikers narrowly escaped the fatal blaze.

Bureaucratic Bumbling

Early on the morning of July 10th, an elite team of firefighters known as "Hot Shots" had contained what came to be known as the "Thirty Mile Fire." At 5:30 a.m. they requested a helicopter water drop to help douse the fire. They were informed that one would not be available until 10 a.m. Expecting the arrival of the chopper, the Hot Shots turned over the fire to a "mop-up" crew. In the drought-dried, brush-choked national forests of the western states, the fire hazard increases dramatically as morning temperatures begin to rise and the dew evaporates. Winds can quickly whip a "contained" fire into an inferno.

The mop-up crew waited for the promised water drop. It didn't come at 10 o'clock. By noon it had still not arrived, so the crew made another request. "At 12:06, the dispatch office ordered the helicopter," Jan Flatten, the environmental officer for the Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forests, told FOX News on August 1st. "However, because there were endangered species in the Chewuch River, they wanted to get permission from the district in order to dip into the river."

The great fear was that the bucket used by the helicopter to scoop up water might accidentally also scoop up an endangered bull trout. According to Flatten, the dispatch office couldn't reach anyone with the authority to approve the helicopter drop. Forest Service District Commander John Newcom, Fire Manager Peter Sodoquist, and a biologist huddled for two hours to determine whether or not they could grant an exemption for the helicopter drop.

"That time lag of about two hours was when they were trying to locate someone with the authority to tell them they could go ahead and take water out of the Chewuch River," said Flatten. Still unexplained is why it took the officials from 5:30 a.m. -- when the request was first made -- until noon to attempt to convene their high privy council.

Eventually, permission was given for the helicopter mission. Around 3 p.m., more than nine hours after the initial request, the helicopter drop finally came. By then it was too late; the fire was rapidly spreading. In short order, it grew from 25 acres to 2,500 acres, trapping the firefighters.

The fire crew made a desperate attempt to flee in their vans. Pete Kampen, a seven-year firefighter and the fire's crew-boss trainee, got seven firefighters into a van and down the road, racing a wall of flames that threatened to cut off any escape route. "We just flat gunned it. It's the first time I've been really scared," an Associated Press story quoted Kampen as saying. The remaining 14 crew members were following in a second van but the towering inferno blocked their path and drove them back. They were forced to abandon their vehicle and take refuge in their fire tents. Two hikers trapped by the soaring flames stumbled onto the crew and one of the young firefighters gave them refuge in her shelter, even though it is designed for single occupancy. Ten of the stranded crew members and the two hikers survived the harrowing ordeal; four did not.

Deadly ESA

At a July 31st hearing of the Forests Subcommittee of the House Resources Committee, Rep. Scott McInnis (R-Colo.) stated: "I am very, very concerned. We need to find out if there was a delay putting water on this ... because of the Endangered Species Act."

The bureaucrats ran for cover. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a press release on August 1st denying "allegations" that there had been any delay in water delivery to the fire due to the ESA. "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wishes to clarify that wildland fires represent an emergency under the Endangered Species Act and that in no circumstances is emergency response to be delayed or obstructed because of Endangered Species Act considerations," declared the agency.

If that is official policy, it obviously is not the de facto operating policy guiding people in the field. In practice, federal employees in the field know that rules protecting "endangered" species are sacrosanct, and any violation may cost them their job. They have seen the "rights" of spiders, spotted newts, and plovers trump human rights many times. They have seen timber towns and loggers shut down for spotted owls and farmers arrested for accidentally killing rats while plowing their fields. They've seen farmers have their water cut off in the middle of a drought for the supposed benefit of sucker fish. They have seen federal SWAT teams descend on an elderly rancher for shooting a wolf that was killing his livestock.

Federal bureaucrats may have paper directives hidden in their desks for the purpose of absolving them of the consequences of their draconian policies, but the reality is that the institutional mind-set is one in which designated "endangered" species must be protected at all costs. The Endangered Species Act has been wreaking havoc for decades and the Thirty Mile Fire is not the first time the ESA has taken human lives.

In 1992, environmental extremists used the ESA to stop controlled bums of dangerous brush build-ups, claiming the preventive actions would endanger protected gnatcatchers and rats. Fire authorities warned that deadly infernos awaited unless the brush was burned early in the year. The environmentalists, with their attorneys and media support, won. But nature had its way. Propelled by strong "Santa Ana" winds and fueled by the protected brush, wildfires consumed more than 150,000 acres, inflicting more than half a billion dollars in damage. More than 500 homes were lost or damaged in the disaster. Some 30,000 people were forced to evacuate their properties. Three people lost their lives. Thousands were left temporarily homeless. And many endangered gnatcatchers were killed by the flames and most of their habitat was destroyed.

Millions of acres of federal forests are now clogged with unnatural fuel buildup, thanks to "endangered species" regulations that have set the fuse on more tragedies to come. These tinderboxes are awaiting only a spark to burst into raging, deadly forest fires that will certainly take more human lives, while destroying resources, habitat, and many of the very species the ESA ostensibly was crafted to protect. The ESA has repeatedly proven itself completely impractical in accomplishing its stated objectives. But this unconstitutional act has been very effective at destroying the rights of American citizens and transferring enormous power to the federal bureaucracy. The Endangered Species Act should not be reformed; it should be abolished.
COPYRIGHT 2001 American Opinion Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:placing more value on the life of animals than that of humans
Author:Jasper, William F.
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 10, 2001
Previous Article:High and Dry in the Klamath Basin.
Next Article:Leading America to Victory.

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