Smokey the Bear is partly at fault. If small fires are suppressed, the fuel load builds up so that the fire, when it eventually happens, burns much more intensely and may be impossible to control. In the past, ponderosa pines often grew in open stands with between 20 and 55 trees per acre. Frequent fires, started by lightning or American Indians, cleared out brush without harming large trees. Smaller trees now grow in the same places with densities of 300 to 900 trees per acre. The accumulated wood serves as a ladder allowing flames to climb into the tree canopy and destroy the largest trees.
Besides controlled burns-like the badly mismanaged one that rapidly got out of control at Los Alamos-the only option is mechanical removal of excess fuel. That is called ``logging.''
Since 1989, timber harvests in national forests have fallen from 12 billion board-feet per year to less than 3 billion. Now that the U.S. Forest Service has announced a moratorium on road building on 43 million acres, mechanical fuel removal becomes virtually impossible. Not too much can be removed quickly with horses, helicopters, or slave labor on foot. (Note that 100 million acres of ``public land'' had already been closed to the public by ``Wilderness'' designations.)
A previous Forest Service method of using herbicides to kill undergrowth, followed by burning, was stopped due to fears for water quality and upsetting the habitat of the northern spotted owl, according to a 1999 GAO report. Additionally, some experts believed that emissions from the burns would violate the Clean Air Act (Washington Times 5/25/00). A proposed Forest Service plan for mechanical brush removal near Ashland, OR, has been blocked for 4 years by critics opposed to the fact that it would permit timber companies to do new logging (NY Times 5/30/00).
The de facto federal policy is to let it burn: destroying spotted owls and vast areas of their habitat, while spewing enormous amounts of particulate matter, (including PM2.5, PM10, and larger) and chemicals such as dioxin into the atmosphere-without any scrubbers. National ``environmental'' organizations, such as the Sierra Club, favor such acts of Nature, having voted in 1996 to press for a total ban on new timber harvesting of any kind in the federal system. (In 1994, the National Commission on Wildfire Disasters had warned of an extreme hazard.)
The King's forests are slated for expansion (see eco?logic, Winter 1999). There is the Conservation and Reinvestment Act, which would provide $3 billion per year (off-budget) to buy more land. And there is the administrative method, explained by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt: ``We've switched the rules of the game. We're not trying to do anything legislatively'' (Washington Times 6/14/99). In Paul Begala's words, ``Stroke of the pen. Law of the land. Kinda cool'' (NY Times 7/5/99).
A review of the status of U.S. timberlands is presented by the Society for Environmental Truth (Torch, March 2000). It is recognized that ``trees have a finite life and if they are not harvested at maturity they will die and eventually fall to the forest floor, where they are of little use except for termite food which releases carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.'' In a well-managed forest, mortality should be minimal. Since 1986, mortality has increased by 55% in national forests (from 10.9 to 16.9 cu ft/acre), and by 28% in industrial forests (from 8.9 to 11.4 cu ft/acre). The harvest of the anti- management environment is upon us, as predicted in March, 2000: ``it is inevitable that a forest fire season will occur when the fuel buildup ... will lead to fires so intense that the entire resource will suffer irreparable damage.'' From 1980s to the 1990s, the damage to homes and property from wildfires increased six-fold.
At the rate the Forest Service is moving to remove excess fuel, it will take 175 to 200 years to do the necessary thinning, according to Mike Nivison, city administrator for the city of Cloudcroft, NM. Three county commissioners in Otero County have asked Gov. Gary Johnson to ratify the state of emergency. Richard Zierlein, chairman of the board of commissioners, said that the county would go ahead to take remedial action on its own if necessary.
People in the county are angry because there has been no logging permitted for eight years. Several mills have gone out of business. They were ``lucky'' to have had only one catastrophic fire, in Scott Able Canyon. This was started by a decayed aspen tree falling across a power line-after federal officials forbade the Otero County Electric Cooperative to remove hazard trees. The fire reached temperatures of 2000 degrees, which destroyed seeds and sterilized the ground, burned 64 houses, and caused $2.3 million in property damage, not counting the lost timber. The watershed for the entire county is still threatened (WorldNetDaily 9/12/00).
Actual firefighting efforts have also been crippled by federal officials. At Clear Creek, ID, the Forest Service shut down firefighting for a day or two to look at sensitive plants. The use of bulldozers is restricted-to avoid scarring the land-while firefighters chop trees by hand, fearing to use logging equipment or even to drag the trees away, lest they be accused of ``logging.'' The use of fire retardant is prohibited near Montana streams containing bull trout, an Endangered Species. Firefighters were commanded to stop pumping water from a stream because the loss of water elevated the temperature and hurt the trout. The water is now completely gone, and all the trout perished anyway (Washington Times 9/1/00).
Environmental extremists have a different explanation for wildfires: cattle grazing, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. That is despite the evidence that grazing keeps down the population of non-native brushy weeds that fuel fires (Tucson Citizen 9/13/00).
Instead of or in addition to thinning out the trees-spending $825 million per year and making no returns in timber royalties-Robert H. Nelson, professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Maryland and Senior Fellow of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, suggests that we ``thin out the federal government. Get rid of the U.S. Forest Service. Give or sell its assets to state governments and private industry'' (Forbes Magazine 9/18/00). Mr. Nelson has a recent book, A Burning Issue: the Case for Abolishing the U.S. Forest Service.
Dr. William Nierenberg, longtime director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and recipient of the 2000 Edward Teller Award, died September 10 at the age of 81. He had a long and brilliant scientific career, ranging from the Manhattan Project and the Livermore Radiation Laboratory to the Scripps Deep Sea Drilling Project to important insights on atmospheric CO2 to a study of the works of Cyrano de Bergerac (a real person who authored novels, plays, poetry, and a ``fragment of physics''). His wonderful 1997 essay, ``Science and Engineering Policy and Who Cares'' can be downloaded from people.delphi.com/saemet/mesc297.htm. His sober, carefully reasoned insights on Kyoto and its ``violently disruptive effect on our economy-in the face of the scientific evidence'' should be required reading.
TAPES AND CD-ROMS: In addition to tapes from the 2000 DDP meeting, the updated, user-friendly CD-ROM for 1992-1999 is available. This includes complete audiotapes, plus many slides and articles. Order one new CD-ROM, and we'll also send as many copies of the 1992-1997 version as you request-while supplies last. Give them away to students, teachers, preachers, writers, or public officials.
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