FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Don’t Get Burned by the Forest Service

by

Fire season has arrived, and California’s drought means there will inevitably be a large forest fire this year. Media will invariably quote employees of the U.S. Forest Service, the federal agency that administers our National Forests.

These spokespeople, fire ecologists and firefighters will offer sound-bites about the unusual size and severity of the fire, the need to restore the burned forest, and the need to cut trees to prevent future fires.

Unfortunately, most of these quotes will be untrue.

They say these things because the Forest Service’s core business is now firefighting, spending $2 billion to $4 billion every year to put firefighters at risk in largely ineffectual efforts to suppress big forest fires.

Why? Because the Forest Service makes much more money by promoting fire hysteria and declaring fire emergencies than it would by letting most fires just burn themselves out, as called for in the prudent, scientific, data-driven 1995 Federal Fire Policy.

The Forest Service gets a blank check to fight fires. Congress gave the agency the right to unlimited overspending during fire “emergencies,” and the Forest Service is happy to oblige. But fire, including large areas of intense fire that kills most or all trees, is natural, normal and restorative in western U.S. forests, and forest fires will self-extinguish. Big fires always come during extreme winds when expensive fire suppression efforts are useless – and extremely dangerous to the firefighters involved.

Since the 1995 federal decision to let most fires burn and to reduce suppression efforts on our national public lands, the Forest Service has made a series of self-serving policies that undermined the scientific consensus and expanded its budget.

Today, nearly half of its $4.9 billion budget is devoted to fire-related activities, and the agency overspends on firefighting every year.

During fires, the Forest Service tells us that “forests are burning more” and that “fires are getting bigger and hotter” or are “uncharacteristically severe.” These statements are untrue, but sound compelling and defend the millions of dollars spent each day to fly tankers and mobilize thousands of firefighters, who risk their lives earning triple overtime at taxpayer expense until the winds finally decrease and the fire dies out.

The rest of the Forest Service’s budget is plumped up through “fuels reduction,” “restoration” and post-fire “salvage” logging – misguided and pointless activities that destroy both green and burned forest habitat critical for wildlife and rare plants.

Laws that protect public lands from destructive activities have reduced most commercial logging in our national forests, but the Forest Service has a loophole to log our trees: fire.

Worse, they do it on our dime. Congress always lets the Forest Service take money from the General Treasury to pay for timber sale administration, road building and logging costs, and then the agency keeps the profits from those sales.

The Forest Service enriches itself at the people’s expense by selling the people’s trees. This is the incentive for another agency deception: that the forest “will never be the same” without “restoration” work. This presumes forests don’t naturally regrow on their own – which of course they do, in what scientists call “succession,” one of the first ecological processes ever described.

Don’t believe it either when they tell you we might have avoided a big fire if only we had removed “excessive fuels” beforehand. Studies show that logging doesn’t prevent or stop big fires during extreme weather when most acreage burns. But it does enrich the Forest Service.

In the 2006 court case, Earth Island Institute v. U.S. Forest Service, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the U.S. Forest Service has a financial conflict of interest when assessing the need to cut trees in our forests. Think of that the next time you read a Forest Service quote in the newspaper or see an agency rep on TV, fire blazing away on the split screen.

Instead, demand that reporters and editors contact a real, independent fire scientist for the expert opinions.

Derek Lee is a nationally known expert on fire and wildlife, and author of many peer-reviewed scientific articles on the subject. He is principal scientist of the Wild Nature Institute.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castile’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
Gregory Barrett
“Realpolitik” in Berlin: Merkel Fawns Over Kissinger
Louis Yako
The Road to Understanding Syria Goes Through Iraq
Graham Peebles
Grenfell Tower: A Disaster Waiting to Happen
Ezra Rosser
The Poverty State of Mind and the State’s Obligations to the Poor
Ron Jacobs
Andrew Jackson and the American Psyche
Pepe Escobar
Fear and Loathing on the Afghan Silk Road
Andre Vltchek
Why I Reject Western Courts and Justice
Lawrence Davidson
On Hidden Cultural Corruptors
Christopher Brauchli
The Routinization of Mass Shootings in America
Missy Comley Beattie
The Poor Need Not Apply
Martin Billheimer
White Man’s Country and the Iron Room
Joseph Natoli
What to Wonder Now
Tom Clifford
Hong Kong: the Chinese Meant Business
Thomas Knapp
The Castile Doctrine: Cops Without Consequences
Nyla Ali Khan
Borders Versus Memory
Binoy Kampmark
Death on the Road: Memory in Tim Winton’s Shrine
Tony McKenna
The Oily Politics of Unity: Owen Smith as Northern Ireland Shadow Secretary
Nizar Visram
If North Korea Didn’t Exist US Would Create It
John Carroll Md
At St. Catherine’s Hospital, Cite Soleil, Haiti
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Singaporean Conjucture
Paul C. Bermanzohn
Trump: the Birth of the Hero
Jill Richardson
Trump on Cuba: If Obama Did It, It’s Bad
Olivia Alperstein
Our President’s Word Wars
REZA FIYOUZAT
Useless Idiots or Useful Collaborators?
Clark T. Scott
Parallel in Significance
Louis Proyect
Hitler and the Lone Wolf Assassin
Julian Vigo
Theresa May Can’t Win for Losing
Richard Klin
Prog Rock: Pomp and Circumstance
Charles R. Larson
Review: Malin Persson Giolito’s “Quicksand”
David Yearsley
RIP: Pomp and Circumstance
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail