Reducing bureaucracy could reduce fire risk

30 September 2008

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USA — Federal mismanagement of U.S. forests has increased the number, size and cost of wildfires over the past decade.  Overcrowding has left 60 percent of national forest land facing abnormal fire hazards.  The culprit: bureaucratic paralysis — due in part to judges or politicians beholden to environmental lobbyists overriding the decisions of professional foresters, says the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA). 

For instance:

  • When a wildfire struck Storrie, Calif., in August 2000, more than 55,000 acres burned, including 28,000 acres in the Plumas National Forest, 27,000 acres in the Lassen National Forest and 3,200 acres of private forestland.
  • Following the fire, only 181 of more than 28,000 acres in the Plumas National Forest were replanted; in the Lassen National Forest, only 1,206 acres were cleared and 230 acres replanted.
  • By contrast, on the privately owned land, forest managers reduced wildfire by removing 30,633 tons of dry material, enough to fuel 3,600 homes for a year.
  • They harvested enough larger dead trees to build 4,300 homes.
  • They spent millions of dollars to reforest burned land and increase the number of different tree species.

Even though federal legislation has specifically allowed the forest service to log to reduce fire risk, environmentalists’ lawsuits have delayed those plans.  Instead, the government should introduce market competition in the management of the nation’s forests, concludes NCPA.

Private forest owners and managers would have the incentive to minimize wildfires and improve forest health.  Unhindered by bureaucratic federal rules, they would be better able to prevent and treat infestations that kill forests, says the NCPA.

Source: Editorial, “CPA: Reducing Bureaucracy Could Reduce Fire Risk,” Environmental Protection, September 25, 2008; based upon: Lani Cohan and H. Sterling Burnett, “In Order to Extinguish Forest Fires, Don’t Let Logging Burn Out,” National Center for Policy Analysis, Brief Analysis, No. 631, September 10, 2008.

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