A Revelation on Healthy Forests

Kate Klein, a 49-year-old district ranger with the U.S. Forest Service, has dedicated much of her life to preserving forests. Over the last several years, as the August 2003 edition of the Smithsonian reported, Klein’s mission has taken on a sense of urgency: she is trying to prevent wildfires, raging rampantly in the West, from destroying America’s forests.

“She came to believe,” the Smithsonian wrote, “that the only way to avoid catastrophic fires was to thin the forests through commercial logging, a process that would reduce what foresters call the ‘fuel load’ and slow a fire’s spread, giving firefighters a better chance of stopping it.”

As the Smithsonian also reported, Klein had always considered herself part of the environmental movement, yet in June 2002, she decided to rethink (to put it mildly) her group loyalties. What happened?

FACT: Klein came up against the legal obstructionism of environmental extremists, who systematically stopped attempts to thin Arizona’s Black Mesa forest district, which Klein manages, and who oppose President Bush’s Healthy Forests Initiative, which will save and preserve forests. The result was a massive wildfire that left a swath of desolation, killing everything, animal species included, that got in its way.

Klein blames the Center for Biological Diversity, which blocked thinning repeatedly, for the fire. Her reaction is worth recounting in full

“If we had done all this thinning we wanted to over the years, we could have kept this fire from exploding, and we could have saved the towns it burned through. All those arguments we heard about how ‘your timber sale is going to destroy Mexican spotted owl habitat,’ ‘your timber sale is going to destroy the watershed.’ And our timber sale wouldn’t have had a fraction of the effect a severe wildfire has. It doesn’t scorch the soil, it doesn’t remove all the trees, it doesn’t burn up all the forage. And then to hear their statements afterward! There was no humility, no acceptance of responsibility, no acknowledgment that we had indeed lost all this habitat that they were concerned about. All they could do was point their finger at us and say it was our fault.”