Inconvenient Truths About the Human Factors Behind the Wildfire Threat
I once heard climate change described at the Swiss army knife of public policy. It can be cleverly adapted to suit an infinite number of political purposes — and it routinely is.
Want to explain something? Evoke climate change. Want to blame something? Evoke climate change. Want to tax something? Evoke climate change. Want to regulate something? Evoke climate change. Want to derail something (think Keystone Pipeline)? Evoke climate change.
Want to evade responsibility for something — like the beetle blight and hellacious wildfires now wreaking havoc in the West? Evoke climate change.
As the ultimate, all-purpose excuse, it’s also the ultimate cop out, which politicians, professional environmentalists and federal bureaucrats – all of whom have had a hand in creating the forest health crisis, and in inhibiting our ability to respond to it – are now using to dodge responsibility for the catastrophic situation we confront. Climate fluctuation, fire and pine bark beetles may all be “natural” phenomena. But there is also a significant man-made cause and component to the situation we face today. It isn’t just the result of forces beyond our control. It’s in large part the consequence of policies, practices and ideological agendas, which need to be examined, acknowledged and reversed if we’re to have any hope of getting a handle on the situation.
One need not take this great conjectural leap to explain our crisis. The much more plausible and factual (though perhaps embarrassing and inconvenient) explanation is that the tinderbox trap we’re in is of man-made construction. Playing the climate card is an easy way for those involved to skirt accountability.
Federal bureaucrats set the stage for the crisis with a century of short-sighted fire suppression policies that disrupted the natural fire cycle and turned federal forests into the fire- and disease-prone thickets we see today. Red tape, bureaucratic inertia, outside meddling and what one former Forest Service chief called ”analysis paralysis” have crippled the agency’s ability to reverse course and respond to the crisis. ”Analysis paralysis” also results from a public process and judicial process that have been hijacked by professional green extremists, who use lobbying clout, saturation litigation and domination of the “public process” to micromanage forests from the outside. Greens gutted the most important provision of the Healthy Forests Act of 2003, something called categorical exclusions, which were designed to streamline the process and speed forest thinning actions, and they routinely and reflexively sue to stop any and all forest restorations actions. Suits are ongoing right now to stop forest restoration work in Montana, Northern Arizona and near Lake Tahoe. One suit just stopped a national forest in Arizona from clearing trees away from transmission lines.
And we can’t give politicians a pass, either, especially Colorado Senators Udall and Bennet, who talk a good game about fire-proofing forests and dealing with beetle blight, but haven’t done diddly to deal in any significant way with what’s now a statewide crisis. They brag about getting a few million federal dollars here or there to nibble at the edge of the cancer. But the cancer has grown exponentially on their watch, with no end in sight. These politicos also back contradictory and conflicting policies, saying on one hand that they want the feds to get out in the forests and deal with the crisis, while simultaneously backing wilderness designations and roadless rules that are specifically designed to limit public access, making it much harder to deal with beetle blight and the wildfire threat. Confronting and coping with the forest health crisis will require more access and entry points to federal lands, not less, but greens and their political allies continue to push for restrictive and exclusionist new wilderness, roadless and national monument designations that will complicate and curtail our ability to deal with the crisis.
A decade ago, after the Hayman and other fires brought the national forest health crisis so vividly to the public’s attention, the true root causes of the crisis – including these human factors – were debated and discussed, leading to what many of us believed might be a “teaching m0ment” that resulted in meaningful policy change. But the moment of public awakening passed, even though the crisis persisted and deepened, and virtually nothing has been done in the last decade to deal with the issue. Gang green kept suing and obstructing. The bureaucrats dawdled and dithered. The politicians postured. And then along came the all-purpose swiss army knife of excuses and copouts, climate change, to conveniently exonerate the human actors behind this scandalous saga.
Not everyone is buying it, fortunately. Anyone who digs deeper into the issue, or who has followed these developments for any length of time, understands that there is much more to the story than the climate cult would have us believe. Coloradans can either accept these easy, incomplete and largely inaccurate explanations, leading them to throw-up their hands in surrender, or to place blame in error. Or they can reject the climate change cop out and acknowledge the man-made element to what’s happening, demanding that policy changes are made and meaningful actions are taken. A failure to do the latter means we’ll just continue to get burned by bureaucrats, greens and posturing and passive politicos.