Feelings about fire policies
Greetings from beautiful Missoula, Mont. I have been here all week participating in the Western Governors Association’s Forest Health Summit. The published purpose of the summit is “to accelerate locally driven projects that will prevent catastrophic wildfires by reducing fuel loads and restoring lands.”
What a mouthful.
In addition, if that was not enough, here are the goals of the summit:
n Evaluate progress under the 10-year Comprehensive Strategy for reducing wildfire fire risks and identify what additional policy issues government needs to consider.
n Hear from and discuss with governors, Congress and Bush administration officials their views for resolving the forest health crises.
n Evaluate how science and technology might be better used on the ground to address forest health issues.
n Improve the network for communication and collaboration among governments and forest health constituencies.
OK. Now my brain is really starting to hurt.
Now I will put it in simple terms.
After the terrible fires last year, the federal government and the president of the United States, George W. Bush, have decided the problem is not the drought or lack of water in the forest. The problem is actually the fact we have too many trees.
After many decades of convincing every elementary school kid we need to love Smokey the Bear and Prevent Forest Fires, we have found out that we have done the job too well. There are too many trees out there and now we need to get rid of some of them.
Simple enough? Sure is to me.
But it must be too simple for the federal government, because now it wants to argue about the problem.
Last year, there was a compromise forest management bill that had bipartisan support. The R’s and the D’s both agreed to a plan but it did not make it through Congress.
This year, the president decided to intervene and a new bill was passed in only one day in the House a couple of weeks ago.
Good thing, right? Not really, if you think about it.
The current bill does not address a lot of the forest you and I might be more concerned with – the forests in the so-called red zone near our towns and populated areas.
Our former congressman, when we were in the 3rd District, Scott McInnis, supported the new bill while our new congressman, Mark Udall in our new 2nd District, did not support the new bill.
Could be a Ford vs. Chevy argument or there might be something worth further consideration.
The president and others supporting the new bill feel that part of the problem is that environmentalists have created a mess by virtually stopping all logging for many years by appealing decisions that have approved logging.
The other camp feels that the right to appeal decisions is being eroded by the new legislation. It becomes more of a due process question rather than a fire problem.
Others think the best way to manage the forest is to let fires burn. It allows the forest to regenerate normally and in many instances, it does not threaten people or property.
Kind of a Ford or Chevy thing.
I am participating in two panels. The first one is called “Close to Home: Protecting Communities from Wildfire.”
The second one is on creating collaborative projects and encouraging cooperation between agencies in local communities.
I think both of these topics are relevant to the Summit County community. We have the recent clearing project in the Ptarmigan Mountain neighborhood and the excellent fire mitigation program operated by Patti Maguire through our local fire districts. We have a lot to share from Summit County and a lot to be proud of in our communities.
I think each one of you should examine your own feelings and attitudes on these subjects and let your feelings be known to Congress.
The bill flew through the house in one day but is now in the Senate and is not moving very fast. I am sure a compromise committee will be named to reach some acceptable conclusion on this new law.
In the meantime, it has rained every day for the past several weeks – enough rain to bring our lakes and rivers back to near normal and to give our forests a good soaking.
Regardless, we know we need a plan and someday in the future it will get dry again and the fire hazard will return.
County Commissioner writes a regular Thursday column for the Summit Daily News.
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