Friday, August 19, 2016

Editorial: Forests burn as Congress takes time off

With temperatures threatening to crack 100 degrees across the mid-valley Friday and Saturday, forest managers throughout the region wasted no time this week moving the fire-danger indicators from "high" to "extreme."
You can't blame them: High temperatures have cooked the fuels in the forests to the point where they'll burn in a hurry if they get just one spark. Relative humidity levels are low. And red flag warnings from the National Weather Service are calling for gusty winds Friday and Saturday — perfect conditions for fires to spread quickly. (The good news is that no lightning storms are forecast over the next few days; the bad news is that there's no hint of rain.)
In California this week, it was all bad news on the fire front. Of particular note: the so-called Bluecut fire, which ignited Tuesday and in the space of 24 hours had raged across 40 square miles, turning into a cataclysm that burned with a ferocity and intensity that stunned even veteran firefighters. The Bluecut fire could represent the new face of wildfire in the drought-ravaged West.
So this is a good time to check back in on how Congress is doing with that proposal — in the works now for many years — to change the way that federal agencies pay for fighting these fires.

Unfortunately, they view the problem as funding, rather than management:

Here's the problem, in a nutshell: As each fire season burns hotter and fiercer, the federal agencies responsible for fighting those fires have to spend more and more of their budgets doing so. The U.S. Forest Service, for example, now says that it spends more than half of its budget fighting fires. (By contrast, just 20 years ago, the percentage of the agency's budget that went to firefighting was about 16 percent.) As firefighting costs rise, the Forest Service (and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, to a lesser extent) need to take money from other areas of the budget. Too often, the agencies have little choice but to take money that had been earmarked for critical forest-restoration work. 

Do you really expect us to believe those puny little "forest restoration" projects are going to fix 60+ years of bad management?  That is laughable.

We have larger, more frequent, and hotter fires because laws such as NEPA and the ESA prevent the Forest Service from applying the appropriate management in a timely fashion.  You can keep going through cycles using different funding mechanisms, and the results will be the same.  Apply the appropriate management and fires will be smaller, less frequent, inflict less damage, and cost less to control.

If you can't amend these laws, then at least  provide some exemptions to the land management agencies so they can get on with the job of rationally protecting our natural resources.

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