Viewpoint: Bush’s play with matches

Listen, there’s no big problem in preventing forest fires. Our man Bush has it all figured out; you simply get rid of the forests. Voila! No more fires.

These problems are simple when you apply a simple mind. Bush doped all this out while walking around a burned over forest in Oregon. He decided we really don’t need all these forests and the environmental laws that protect them, so we’ll just get rid of them.

Dubya wants to give the logging in-

dustry the green light to clear 2.5 million acres or more of federal forest lands in the next decade. He wants that done as rapidly as possible, and don’t bug him with annoying statutes like the Endangered Species Act, either.

That way we can create large new areas his oil-soaked cronies can pave with asphalt and make beaucoup bucks in the process. This plan is called “the Healthy Forests Initiative.”

Notice how the title fits neatly into federal newspeak where white is black, down is up, and night is day. All part of Dubya’s program to keep ‘em confused so they’ll follow him over the cliff.

Americans have been told for more than 60 years that forest fires are bad. Smokey the Bear and all that. Fire is bad for forests, we’re told, and “only you can prevent forest, fires.” Smokey has been a bigger draw than Tony the Tiger or Cap’n Crunch.

If you think about it, how valid is that premise? Are fires really bad for forests?

The facts seem to say that these forests were born of fires, not destroyed by them. Low-level fires were, for hundreds of years, part of a natural cycle that cleared out the scrub growth and underbrush, giving the healthy trees an opportunity to grow and prosper.

It stayed that way until some began to view forests as a commercial resource rather than something to be cleared here and there to allow villages and towns to be built.

Fire suppression was an essential item after big companies like Weyerhauser and Georgia-Pacific laid claim to the vast western forests. They pressured Congress to put many, many dollars into fire fighting programs through the U.S. Forest Service.

The agency loved that idea because it fattened up their budget. It all amounted to federally-financed fire insurance for the timber companies. It is a corporate bailout that amounts to tens of billions of dollars over the past several years. The old gag is that the Forest Service fights fires by throwing money at them. It means big costs to the taxpayers.

“The Forest Service budgetary process rewards forest managers for losing money on environmentally destructive timber sales and penalizes them for making money or doing environmentally beneficial activities,” said Randal O’Toole, a forest economist with the Thoreau Institute in Bandon, Oregon.

“Until those incentives are changed, giving the Forest Service more power to sell or thin trees without environmental oversight will only create more problems than it solves,” he said.

Since the 1920s, the fire-fighting establishment of the U.S. Forest Service has been under orders to attack forest fires within 12 hours of the first sighting. We’ve had a zero tolerance policy for decades. Even today, after forest ecologists have proven most forests need fire, the Forest Service tries to suppress more than 99 percent of all wildfires.

When natural fires are excluded from forests and grasslands, dry timber, small trees and brush build up. The low-intensity fires that used to occur have been supplanted by roaring, catastrophic blazes that destroy everything in their paths.

According to Jeffrey St.Clair, writing for, the answer to the problem remains burning, not logging. St. Clair wrote: “The Bush plan is the environmental equivalent of looting a bombed-out city and raping the survivors. The last thing a burned-over forest needs is an assault by chainsaws, logging roads and skid trails, to haul out the only living trees in a scorched landscape.”

He said the proof can be found at Mt. St. Helens and at Yellowstone National Park. There unlogged, burned-over forests recovered quickly, whereas logged-over, burned forests tend to remain biological deserts, tough to revegetate and abandoned by deep forest birds and salmon in the streams. These charred wastelands exist as barren islands in the larger ecosystem.

This scenario is likely to expand because of the collusion by Bush, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and some so-called environmental groups.

The most recent plan was presented by the Oregon Natural Resources Council and the Sierra Club. They call it the “Environmentalist New Vision.” There’s little new about it.

This plan calls for logging operations near homes located where forest and suburbs meet. There is absolutely no evidence that thinning timber near subdivisions will reduce fires. There are other methods more effective and less harmful to forests.

These “environmentalists” contend that if we just fireproof the roofs and landscaping of developments within forests and create firebreaks along the boundaries, all will be well.

Too many of the big contributors to these green groups have homes inside forests like Vail, Colo., Flagstaff, Ariz. and Black Butte Ranch, Oregon.

What this plan will do is to lead to more subdivisions within forests, more logging and more fires. Look at where this season’s big fires came from. In Oregon, 45,000 acres plus of prime ancient forest were torched by the Forest Service to start a backfire. The intent was to save a town that, it turned out, wasn’t even threatened by fire.

Big fires in Arizona and Colorado were set by Forest Service employees and seasonal firefighters. A major fire in California was started by a marijuana suppression operation and other fires in Washington, Oregon, and Montana had human origins.

The president’s plan will only lead to more of the same but at an unrestrained and speeded-up pace. Combine that with global warming, lingering droughts, and infestations of alien insects and diseases, and the future of America’s forests looks pretty grim.

Some environmental groups have stood up and strongly protested the Bush plan. “This is part of Bush’s irresponsible anti-environmental agenda,” said Bill Meadows, president of the Wilderness Society. “The truth is that waiving environmental laws will not protect homes and lives from wildfire,” he said.

Bush has been rolling back environmental protections on all fronts, just as he did during his tenure as governor of Texas. He has no concern for the environment. The only things that matter to him are profit and power—those are his matches.

If Americans want to keep any of their pristine natural beauty, the few truly wild places that are left, they will have to make a concerted effort to halt this trend before it is too late.

Remember, only you can prevent George Bush!

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