Bush plan catches fires

USA: FORESTS: U.S. Announces Flawed Policy to Address Raging NaturalWildfires

Source: The Denver Post , 16 August 2001,
published by Forest Conservation Portal


President Bush’s feel-good tour of Colorado this week did call attention to one serious matter: A new agreement has been inked between federal agencies and the governors in 10 Western states, including Colorado, on how to prevent future catastrophic wildfires.
Bush’s staged photo-op in Rocky Mountain National Park, which showed the president whittling away at a tree branch, didn’t begin to illustrate the complexity of the problem, however.
Last year, wildfires burned 8.5 million acres of national forests and other public lands. In response, Congress set aside funds for fire prevention efforts by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and other agencies.
Then on Monday, the Western Governors Association and the federal agencies signed an agreement to address the wildfire issue. The 20-page document is sadly lean on details, but correctly emphasizes fire prevention. In that regard, the plan Bush so proudly touted does in fact represent progress on a contentious issue.
Yet the most important question, how to achieve the desired reduction in fire hazard, remains partly unanswered.
Scientists, environmentalists and timber executives generally acknowledge that the Forest Service and BLM must let some small, natural fires burn and ignite other controlled burns to clear out potential wildfire fuel such as deadwood and thick brush. But they vehemently disagree on whether, how much and what kind of logging should be part of the plan.
Indeed, environmental groups offer credible evidence that traditional logging methods actually increased fire dangers because the operations removed big, fire-resistant trees and left intact the very materials most apt to ignite.
If logging is used to reduce the fire hazard, it must concentrate on removing the unnatural build-up of these smaller forest materials.
But few profitable markets exist for such materials. Timber companies thus claim they need to cut the larger trees so they can afford to do the fire-prevention work, too. Environmentalists view such claims as an excuse for the logging industry to return to the bad old days.
If the newly inked fire prevention plan is to carry any credibility, state and federal agencies must deal with this issue directly. Timber companies must not be allowed to use fire prevention as justification for chopping down large, mature trees, unless for some unusual reason such trees present a wildfire hazard in a specific location. Instead, the government must encourage development of sustainable markets for the smaller forest materials.
Ultimately, what’s needed to resolve the disagreement is top leadership. If he cares about the West, as he proclaimed in his recent visit, Bush will keep wildfire prevention on his presidential agenda.
(Copyright 2001 The Denver Post)


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