Politicians, enviros play pathetic wildfire blame game
Colorado’s biggest-ever wildfires are under control, but the rhetorical blame game is as heated as ever. After weeks of saturation coverage by the media, nearly everyone knows what the problems and solutions are. But politicians and environmental groups don’t seem to get it. They spent last week engaged in a PR war that threatens to shift attention from the real question: How can damage from future fires be minimized?While crews still battled the Hayman and Missionary Ridge fires and faced life-threatening danger at other conflagrations, reporters and editors received a pair of dueling press releases aimed at swaying public opinion. First, Congressman Scott McInnis charged green groups with preventing the Forest Service from reducing fire danger. In response, environmentalists joined McInnis on the low road, accusing the Forest Service of false reporting and of taking orders from the logging industry.At issue was a pair of Forest Service reports documenting the number of appeals and lawsuits generated by fuel reduction projects. The first report indicated that only a tiny percentage of fire mitigation projects have been appealed. But that sort of data wont score any political points for McInnis in this election year, so he requested a second report, counted the numbers in a different way and surprise came up with different totals.Such self-serving finger-pointing is nothing new. Some Western lawmakers were quick to jump the gun and condemn the Forest Service after a blaze devastated parts of Los Alamos, New Mexico in 2000. But the agency is now controlled by a Republican administration, so its not quite as simple. The sagebrush posse needs a new scapegoat, and skewering environmental groups over the coals of a charred forest is apparently what they have in mind for their election-year barbecue.And could they have an ulterior motive? Perhaps they want to undermine the broad level of public support enjoyed by the conservation community, something that has long been a political thorn in the side of McInnis, Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho and a host of extraction-minded cronies.So instead of cooperating to garner support and funding for fire mitigation projects everyone can agree on, elected officials and green groups have focused on a statistical shell game, trying to make political hay from the ashes. I wonder how comforting that is for people whose houses have burned or who live in the Red Zone, waiting for the next careless camper or inevitable lightning strike.Never hesitant to toss verbal hand grenades, McInnis triggered the latest volley. The Colorado Republican used incendiary verbiage to describe how environmental groups have forced the Forest Service into a position of "malicious neglect." Of course, McInnis conveniently ignored the fact that he, along with other conservative Western lawmakers, has consistently starved the agency of the funds it needs to properly plan, evaluate and execute fire mitigation projects, not to mention the many other management mandates the agency is tasked with.But just like some politicians would like to earn political capital by blaming environmental groups for the fires, some environmentalists would like to use the fires as a way to manage growth and to scare people from living in and near the forests.McInnis correctly identifies "ideological purists" who use all means at their disposal to try and realize their own neo-romantic vision of Americas forests as primitive wilderness. Dont get me wrong Im a staunch proponent of deep ecology and I love Thoreau and Rousseau, but I suspect to someone whose house is burning, its just a bunch of philosophical crap-eau.Its not always about the public interest, or the process, as some greenies claim. Its clearly about a clash of values, and I believe the environmental community holds the moral high ground when it advocates for the long-term sustainability of forest ecosystems. But that doesnt abrogate the need for a healthy dose of realism. The "who, me?" attitude just doesn’t cut it.When it comes to developing land use policy for the so-called wildland-urban interface, I expect both my elected representatives and the green to set aside any selfish agendas. We all know what needs to be done and we know it needs to happen sooner rather than later, so lets make sure the Forest Service has the resources and support to get the job done. Any further delays or political posturing are unconscionable.
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