Soapbox: Amid successes on wildfire cooperation, there’s undertone of anti-federalism

Soapbox: Amid successes on wildfire cooperation, there’s undertone of anti-federalism

09 May 2013

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USA — Members of the Congressional Western Caucus held a hearing titled “Seeking State Solutions: Forest Health, Wildfires, and Habitat Protection” at the State Capitol last week. I didn’t attend, but all of the speeches can be accessed online.

By the looks of things, our state-federal collaboration on forest fires and fuel treatments has been advancing at a healthy clip. So why then do some members cling to anti-federalism?

Former Interior Secretary Gale Norton talked about the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 that aimed to ensure agencies had the equipment and manpower to fight forest fires. By streamlining environmental analyses and removing administrative obstacles, urgent fuels treatments on public lands have since been expedited.

Norton also shared several things that might behoove us to listen to here in Larimer County. She advocated for no development zones in the critical wildland-urban interface. Norton said Colorado’s tax deduction for hazardous fuels reduction has been a significant step. She also urged local governments to enact building codes that encourage or require concrete, tile or metal roofs and vegetation setbacks.

At the state level, Gov. Hickenlooper helped establish Stewardship Contracting and the Good Neighbor Authority. Good Neighbor Authority allows states to perform forest treatments on public land when they are treating neighboring nonfederal land. Stewardship Contracting allows the USFS to focus on goods (trees and other woody biomass) for services (removal of this material), and helps the agency make forest treatment projects more economical. Colorado’s 2011 Forest Health Act created a Biomass Task Force.

Amid all of the positive reviews of the cooperative accomplishments during the past decade, some members of the caucus used the hearing to interject a distinct undertone of anti-federalism. As government officials, their criticism of the U.S. Forest Service seems highly distasteful, inappropriate and undignified.


• “I am hopeful that we will return back to a proactive approach in fire prevention and forest management, and put control back in the hands of those who live and work in our forests to keep them thriving for generations to come. “ — U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce (New Mexico)

• “The federal approach to forest management and wildfire prevention isn’t working as evidenced by the millions of acres of scorched forest throughout the west.” — U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis (Wyoming)

• “Unfortunately, several past policies have allowed our forests to assume a condition that is not natural, and we must take steps to correct these policies and move forward by the implementing of good forest management.” U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner (Colorado)

• “For years federal bureaucrats, heavily influenced by environmentalists, have failed to actively manage our national forests, which can lead to out-of-control wildfires, and threaten life and property in our Western states.” U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn (Colorado)

These statements are reminiscent of the Sagebrush Rebellion that has long supported turning public lands over to the states. The rhetoric tends to oversimplify the concept of healthy ecosystems and implies that the USFS is inept, paralyzed and drinking spotted owl flavored Kool-Aid.

The USFS is not broken nor is it failing. It is this country’s premier conservation agency staffed by experts charged with managing our public lands for sustainability while complying with all laws and regulations set by Congress. Federal fire specialists are renowned enough that Colorado turned to the USFS to review and document findings when the state’s Fourmile Canyon prescribed burn escaped and burned homes near Boulder. They may not be perfect but suggesting that the USFS has somehow failed Colorado is ridiculous.

Renee Popp is a Livermore resident.

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