(LONG) REPUBLICANS PLAN ATTACK ON FIRE POLICY

truffler1635 at my-deja.com truffler1635 at my-deja.com
Fri Sep 15 18:43:38 EST 2000


>From The Oregonian, Sept. 15, 2000, p C1

REPUBLICANS PLAN ATTACK ON FIRE POLICY
As the wildfire season ends and elections approach, senators stoke the
fight over President Clinton’s public forest management

By JIM BARNETT, THE OREGONIAN

	WASHINGTON - With one of the West’s worst wildfire seasons coming to
a close, Republican senators plan to turn up the political heat on the
Clinton administration today, blaming its timber policies for the
destruction of millions of acres of forests.
	A hearing scheduled for this morning is billed as an impartial
review of federal preparedness for wildfires. But some Republicans
already have faulted the administration for failing to clear federal
forests of small trees and brush that feed catastrophic fires.
	“This administration wants a lot of credit,” said Sen. Gordon Smith,
R-Ore., who, as a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee,
called for the hearing. “It can bear some blame where mistakes have been
made.”
	The purpose of congressional hearings is to find facts. And in this
case, one stands above the rest: Nearly 7 million acres have been
scorched in the summer of 2000, the most in a half-century.
	Beyond that, Republican senators and Democratic administration
officials have little to agree on. For six years, the two sides have
clashed publicly. Now, with a presidential election at hand, the stakes
are higher, and blame for the fires is political ammunition.
	“Nobody is going to pretend this is ‘Casablanca’ and say, ‘Politics?
Heaven forbid! And only a few weeks before the election?’” said Sen. Ron
Wyden, D-Ore., who plans to attend today’s hearing. “No one is naive
about the fact that this is political.”
	At issue is how best to manage 192 million acres of public forests,
many of which are overgrown after a century of fire suppression. About
one in five of those acres is at risk of a catastrophic fire, according
to a 1999 government estimate.
	Smith blames the administration for cozying up to environmentalists
who want to end logging on public lands. Officials have shifted money
earmarked for fire prevention to take more land out of timber production,
leaving overgrown forests at risk, he said.
	“It has allowed interior and Forest Service money to be diverted
away from forest health and fire-fighting into land-acquisition budgets,”
Smith said. “I think that’s critical for people to know.”
	Administration officials, meanwhile, said they’re following the
orders of a Congress that has put a premium on making timber available
for commercial harvest and hasn’t made the necessary investments in fire
prevention.
	“I think they will come after us for not cutting enough trees,” said
Chris Wood, an aide to U.S. Forest Service chief Mike Dombeck. “There are
many who are trying to make this a logging issue. It is a fuel-reduction
issue.”
	Distrust between the two sides grew from the forest of 1994, the
same year Republicans took control of the Congress. Clinton signed a
Republican plan to clear the remains but discovered later that the
“salvage rider” allowed far more logging than expected.
	This time, Clinton is taking the initiative. Earlier this week, he
released a plan to boost fire-prevention spending by $1.6 billion a year.
It proposes paying timber companies to harvest small trees that have
little market value.
	Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said the plan “validates” the
administration’s approach to forest health. Before Clinton took office,
he said, federal agencies took little interest in studying the causes of
catostrophic wildfires.
	“It is now a request to scale up a totally new direction in forest
policy, which has been exclusively developed by this administration,”
Babbitt told The Oregonian.
	Veteran foresters said neither party is to blame for this year’s
wildfires. Rather, snuffing out wildfires was the policy of Republican
and Demoncratic administrations alike for most of the 20th century. The
beneficial, brush-clearing effect of small, cool-burning fires became
clear only in recent years.
	Jack Ward Thomas, a former Forest Service chief who teaches at the
University of Montana, said he gets frustrated with both sides in the
debate over wildfires. It’s politically beneficial to pinpoint a single
cause, he said. But scientifically, it’s not possible.
	“This is something they want to make simple, and it’s not simple,”
Thomas said. “It’s very complex. It’s related to weather. It’s related to
fuel build-up. Is it getting hotter? We don’t know. But we sure had a
hot, dry summer.”
	Will Stelle, the outgoing Northwest regional officer of the National
Marine Fisheries Service, has spent the past six years embroiled in
similar disputes over endangered salmon runs.
	Stelle often found himself caught between environmentalists who
wanted to remove dams to save fish and reluctant Western Republicans who
claimed removal would ruin the economy of the interior Northwest.
	Politics still dominates the discussion, Stelle said, but advances
in science have provided better information and helped refine the debate
over salmon recovery. The same phenomenon could be occuring in forest
management.
	“It’s not possible to take politics out of these types of issues
because they are social issues, and they refelct social judgments as to
what is the right thing to do,” Stelle said.
	Although he has blamed the Clinton administration’s policies for the
fires, Smith said he also hoped toay’s hearing would be an opportunity
for politics to spread knowledge and hone public debate.
	“This is a time to learn the lessons from the most castrophic fire
season in decades,” Smith said. “Every year, they’re burning hotter and
longer, and the question is reasonably asked, why?”

Comment by poster: Once again G. Smith has painted himself into a
political posture based on party lines instead of science. It's too bad
someone on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee has so little
knowledge about what he's supposed to be representing. "The Peter
Principle?", which posits that people rise to the level of their
incompetence, has once again been proven.

Daniel B. Wheeler
www.oregonwhitetruffles.com


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