Environmental Extremism vs. Healthy Forests

True to form, environmental extremists have done nothing but complain bitterly about the President’s Healthy Forests Initiative, which was introduced in August of 2002. These groups have no meaningful alternative to protecting forests or property (NRDC says, with callous indifference, that catastrophic forest fires are simply inevitable–they’re not, by the way–so people should buy inflammable roofing). They prefer making politically charged sound bites instead of working with the President to implement concrete solutions to a very serious environmental problem.

The President’s trip to Summerhaven, Arizona, sparked the usual rhetorical pabulum from the usual suspects. Interestingly, complaints leveled by these groups look quite similar in tone and content, showing a remarkable effort at message coordination, designed no doubt for fundraising purposes:

  • “The Bush-backed measure does not provide the funding needed to protect communities and instead uses the fear of fire to gut bedrock environmental laws and tip the scales of justice in our courts.” Wilderness Society’s Gary Kozel
  • “It’s clearly and blatantly being done to allow the timber industry to once again elevate logging levels in our national forests, and the primary justification is building upon this public hysteria of fire.” Brian Segee, Tucson’s Center for Biological Diversity.
  • “Wilderness and roadless areas are too valuable to be handed over to the logging industry in the name of ‘fuel reduction.'” Wilderness Society President William H. Meadows.
  • “To the Sierra Club it looks more like a logging plan — one that aims to gut the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) in the process.” Sierra Club
  • “The administration is asking Congress to torch our most basic environmental protections in the guise of fire prevention.” Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Do these charges have any grounding in fact? One might ask: where is the proof of a timber industry-cum-Bush Administration conspiracy? In Arizona, there is essentially no logging industry left: there are two very small mills, and the Apache Indian Reservation has two mills of its own. And further, where is the proof showing exactly how environmental laws are being “gutted”? Among other things, the Administration is using categorical exclusions, based on scientific peer review, to expedite catastrophic-fire-preventing thinning projects. Those exclusions are an existing part of NEPA.

    Healthy Forests isn’t about logging or the timber industry, but about protecting forests and people’s homes. It is about preventing Arizona’s Rodeo-Chediski fire, whose path of destruction equaled about 60 percent of the size of Rhode Island, from happening again. And it is about preventing frivolous, baseless litigation sponsored by extremist groups, which is a major contributing factor to the recent spate of catastrophic fires.

    Kate Klein, a 49-year-old district manager with the U.S. Forest Service, and someone who once considered herself part of the “environmental movement,” agrees. As she told the Smithsonian magazine (August 2003 edition), the legal obstructionism of environmental extremists, who systematically stopped attempts to thin Arizona’s Black Mesa forest district, which Klein manages, caused 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, who 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.”