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Senate Democrats choose fire and fraud over flora, fauna and humans
By John G. Lankford
Last week seven powerful Senate Democrats introduced two bills addressing combustible fuel buildups and insect infestation in this nation's forests. They did so as soon as, and not a moment before, the Republican administration's own bill, the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003, showed promise of becoming law.
In doing so they served notice of intent to reprise and even surpass the Byzantine machinations that characterized debate over the matter in the fall of 2002, an exchange that ended with no legislation passed, both parties appealing to voters in off-year elections, and Republicans making record gains and capturing control of the Senate.
They also chose preserving their allegiance with pseudo-environmental extremists so livid they are no longer Green, and no longer care about air, water, global warming or endangered species, over sound land management policy and even the desires of their traditional labor constituency.
If the foregoing seems harsh, the pertinent facts are even more shocking.
First, as indicated by the lateness of Senate Democrat submissions on the issue last year and this, they would prefer the issue of forest fire devastation just go away. In this they are consistent with the above-denounced pseudo-environmantal groups they are accommodating. Those groups are openly advocating that the nation's forests be abandoned to wildfire, regardless of millions of acres of devastation such neglect would bring about. That amounts to passive arson on a monumental scale, with obliteration of countless specimens of endangered and threatened species and the endangerment and threatening of many now thriving, with the pumping of innumerable tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and with the triggering of soil erosion, reservoir damaging, and water pollution, from concentrated combustion residue pouring down hills and into water supplies.
On September 18, Patrick Moore, career ecologist and co-founder and former president of Greenpeace, a well-known strident environmentalist organization, denounced its embrace of let-it-be, let-it-burn range management.
"As an ecologist," Moore wrote, "I can tell you that this approach ultimately leads to soil destruction, air and water pollution, and wildfires that can kill every living thing in our forests -- all in the name of 'saving the forests.'"
Entirely consistent was a voluminous report published by the National Association of Forest Service Retirees, available online, at the cost of a long download wait, at that group's web site. Association Chairman Douglas Leisz, in a letter to the Washington Times published June 5, synopsized the report's conclusions. Neglect is never viable forestry, his letter opined, but now, after decades of sorely inadequate thinning and harvest coupled with strict fire suppression, combustible fuel buildup, along with insect infestation and disease further heightening the hazard, abdication is actually incendiary.
"By not thinning, we are inviting catastrophic wildfire, insect infestation and disease, threatening public health and safety, devastating the ecosystem and its wildlife, and damaging our watersheds," Leisz wrote, adding, "To fix the situation, tree thinning and other fire fuel treatments must be implemented across broad landscapes in order to modify fire behavior."
That let-it-be, let-it-burn anti-stewardship is not benign neglect but rather arson by neglect is no longer debatable. On September 17 and 23, 2002, Senator Jon Kyl (R-NM) delivered himself of comprehensive lectures based on first-hand knowledge and specific examples. They have been web-mounted as "A Healthy Forests Primer" on SierraTimes.com and AldenChronicles.com, accompanied by an extensively-footnoted article titled "Democrats Repeat Filibuster While Forests Burn"
In the peroration of his earlier speech, Kyl challenged his Senate colleagues, asking, "Do we want to protect the habitat for those endangered species that we all would like to preserve? Do we want to protect the habitat for all the other flora and fauna? Do we want to have a healthy forest or do we want, in effect, to let it go to seed, risking catastrophic fire, disease, and insect devastation which will not protect the environment but will destroy it for all the purposes I mentioned before? That is the choice before us."
Collectively, the Senate chose not to act. As an adjunct to filibustering obstruction of the 2002 attempt to pass the substance of President Bush's Healthy Forests Initiative, a proposal essentially derived from a lengthy study and proposal assembled by the Western Governors' Association, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) introduced an amendment limiting thinning and cleanup to areas near human settlements. He was joined by Sens. Barbara Feinstein (D-Ca) and Ron Wyden (D-Or), both of whom had initially expressed support for the Healthy Forests measure. Tossing that purported alternative approach into the hopper helped disguise the obstructive filibuster.
Arson, Fraud and Malfeasance 2003
On June 23, as a Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee hearing on the Bush administration's forestry bill drew near. Bingaman, joined by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell (both D-Wa) introduced this year's late-coming Democratic alternative. Titled the Collaborative Forest Health Act (S 1314), it would direct 70 percent of cleanup activity to areas within a half-mile of inhabited areas and municipal watersheds. Since the overwhelming majority of forest is outside such boundaries, the allocation abandons almost all of it.
On June 26, while the administration bill was in committee hearing, Senators Wyden and Feinstein introduced their Community and Forest Protection Act (S 1352). That bill only imposes a 50 percent fund allocation for inhabited areas and municipal watersheds.
The Wyden-Feinstein bill is clearly intended to occupy middle ground between the administration measure and Bingaman's. In his press release accompanying its introduction, Wyden disingenuously growled, "Last year, Congress unconscionably walked away from an opportunity to pass a balanced fire bill" and then threatened, "Our legislation will give Congress the best hope to obtain the 60 votes needed to take meaningful action this year."
The 60 vote remark referred to a Senate rule prohibiting any measure any Senator chooses to designate as controversial from being brought up for action unless that number of Senators favor doing so. It enables filibusters such as occurred in 2002, and has been energetically used by Democrats, now in the minority, this year.
A half-mile barrier as a shield against wildfire is patent fallacy. This year, a still-raging wildfire near Albuquerque, New Mexico has jumped the Rio Grande several times.
In 2002 Rocky Mountain News reporter Gabrielle Crist, summarizing the account of a holocaust given her by Mountain Communities Volunteer Fire Department Chief Scott Reeder, wrote, "[T]he Hayman Fire was a 200-foot wall of flames racing through the forest. It jumped highways, rivers, meadows and fire lines."
Anyone who has experienced such an inferno knows burning embers fly for miles and alight on dry rooftops or arid vegetation. A high-elevation fire or a relatively high wind increase the hazard. Additionally, whorls of superheated, incompletely-combusted carbon and wood distillates, rising above wildfires and reaching adequate oxygen supplies, often ignite and travel long distances as gigantic fireballs, capable of incinerating anything they touch.
Yet the narrow-buffer-zones-only approach is the one the great pseudo-environmentalist organizations, if forced to accept any forest intervention program at all, demand. They solicit donated funds from gullible country club, campus and condo conservationists. feeding them quackery they know to be not only false but perilous to flora, fauna, and human beings. Thus seeking money by knowingly lying to ignorant donors they aim to deceive constitutes literal, if perhaps not legally actionable, fraud. Politicians who pander to such chicanery in exchange for political support are complicit in it.
The Why of Gang Green Skulduggeries
The explanation for the departure of once-respectable, if extremely adamant, environmental/ecological groups to positions not even their avid founders and erstwhile principals can understand is simply this: They have been left-napped by people who could not care less about flora, fauna, humans, or the planetary environment. They are people who believe all private enterprise and all national economies founded on any significant portion of it are evil, unfair, unjust, unacceptable.
After meeting with some of their spokespersons to try to fathom the vehemence of their opposition to Bush's Healthy Forests Initiative, Senator Kyl reported, "[Y]ou have a very loud, activist, radical minority that is so afraid commercial businesses will want to cut large trees, that they want to destroy any commercial industry. . .
"Some of the radicals are so concerned that when they are doing this job for us, they will say: We don't have anything more to do; we want to take the big trees. And they are concerned that we won't have the ability to tell them no. Therefore, they are going to prevent us from cleaning up the forest for making it healthy again."
Consistently, both Democratic bills rely entirely on taxpayer funds for such forest cleanup as they propose. The administration measure calls for federal foresters to design projects and present them to logging companies for bid, at radically reduced taxpayer cost per square mile of forest cleaned. The Bingaman bill specifically prohibits any such arrangement, and the Wyden-Feinstein bill quashes such by omission.
Senator Kyl estimates as much as 50 million acres urgently needs cleaning. Senator Feinstein puts the figure at 57 million. Kyl said, "There is not enough money for us to appropriate to treat 30 or 40 or 50 million acres , , , We are talking about a lot of money we simply don't have." Accordingly, Bingaman's bill appropriates $250 million a year for five years for cleanup and, to assure the activity won't go too far for his backers' tastes, limits cleanup to 20 million acres in any case. The Wyden-Feinstein bill appropriates $750 million a year for five years, allowing more work. The administration bill anticipates income from tract assignments to forest products companies, but makes appropriations for collateral purposes such as development of biomass-energy and other technologies to utilize the gleanings.
When the pseudo-environmentalists want to oppose mining, drilling, or fossil fuel uses, they cry for employment of renewable resources. When the use of waste wood is proposed, they demand their political allies stop it at any cost. Again, their objective is to shut down private enterprise and any national economy relying on it. And if millions of acres burn, flora and fauna perish and human property and possibly human bodies go up in smoke because of their arson-by-neglect dictates, the defrauding duplicity with which they herd well-meaning dupes to polls to vote for complicit politicians wreak devastation, well, so be it.
Or, perhaps, by their dark lights, so much the better.
John G. Lankford is a one-time reporter, retired lawyer and resident of
Ambergris Caye, Belize. He has contributed to SierraTimes.com, AldenChronicles.com,
Enter Stage Right, RadicalPositivism.org and other online publications.
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