July 26, 2012

Big Green lawsuits cause megafires, destroy endangered species

Ron Arnold, Contributor
The Washington Examiner

Professional foresters have known for years that environmentalists are the forests' worst pest. Green groups' lawsuits block federal forest health improvements and catastrophic wildfire prevention measures, leading to destroyed communities, dead animals and forests and timber jobs exported to foreign suppliers.

Last Tuesday, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., convened an oversight hearing on the problem, titled, "The Impact of Catastrophic Forest Fires and Litigation on People and Endangered Species."

A single panel of four nongovernment witnesses laid out different perspectives on the hearing's major premise: For decades, environmental groups have used the Endangered Species Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act to file dozens of lawsuits that block timber fuels reduction and thinning projects that would decrease the risk of wildfires that decimate species' habitat.

The issue doesn't register on many people because it's too technical. What are timber fuels? How could thinning prevent wildfires? Any number of past surveys show that the American psyche sees forests as either Disneyland or Chartres cathedral: clean, safe, well-managed playgrounds or temples for the faithful.

Timber fuels are anything in the forest that gets dry or combustible -- grass, brush, trees, dead or downed wood -- or whatever. Thinning is the removal of these things through such methods as logging, junkwood hauling, chipping and mulching, pile and controlled burn, livestock grazing to crop tall grasses in open forests, et cetera. Such management of the woods keeps them clean and safe.

However, the green faithful hate development, including firefighting roads, tree cutting in fire-prone stands, and water catchments to put out megafires. When imposed by lawsuit upon an actual forest, the Big Green Bible produces a Crispy Critters National Wasteland. Humor aside, such behavior should be a felony.

Committee Chairman Hastings made this point tellingly by placing a superscription over the hearing's briefing paper. It was a 2009 quote from Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity.

Suckling said: "When we stop the same timber sale three or four times running, the timber planners want to tear their hair out. They feel like their careers are being mocked and destroyed -- and they are. So, they become more willing to play by our rules and at least get something done. Psychological warfare is a very underappreciated aspect of environmental campaigning."

It's not just wretched hidden agendas that thwart forest managers and fire fighters. The law itself, piled high with old environmental agenda items, is wildfire's best friend. Rick Dice, president of the National Wildfire Suppression Association, told the hearing panel, "Our environmental laws individually provide important safeguards. But collectively, they overlap in contradictory ways that make it nearly impossible for the federal land managers, local elected officials, partnership groups and private firefighting companies to navigate through the legal paperwork."

American environmental law has only STOP buttons. There are no GO buttons that can force a development through special interest litigation.

Witness Alison Berry, an energy and economics expert at Montana's Sonoran Institute, said as much. She recommended that the Forest Service "overhaul the public land laws that are dragging down federal land management. Reform should be directed at making national forests less vulnerable to seemingly endless litigation."

Hastings and his staff posted a video of this crucial hearing on the committee's website, which everyone should watch. In the meantime, how do we put STOP buttons on the environmentalists' psychological warfare against development, and give GO buttons to rational management of our nation's forests?

Examiner Columnist Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.