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Facts & Demogoguery: The Experts Speak Out On Western Fires

"The only thing that burns hotter than a wildfire in the West is the demagoguery of some politicians trying to take advantage of it."

(Former Rep. Pat Williams, Era of the Big Fire Is Kindled at West's Doors, The New York Times, June 23, 2002)

The Facts
"The problem is the undergrowth and the small trees. The logging doesn't help at all. The logging takes the big trees and, interest--ironically enough, the big trees aren't the problem. They don't--they don't flare up and cause this rapid run of the fire. It's the tiny, small trees, that used to be cleared out by the ground fires. So the fact is there's really nothing we can do to fireproof the forests. What we've got to learn to do is to look inward at where we live and learn how to fireproof our residences, our communities, and to build these fire breaks around the communities. Now, there's a national fire plan under way. We started it three or four years ago, which is giving federal money into local communities and saying, 'In order to live with these fires you've got to take precautions. Here's some federal assistance. Now let's get out and see if we can thin the forests right up next to the communities. Then it's going be your responsibility to build sensible fire resistant housing, to clear the brush and the stuff in your yard, and that's going to be the price of living in these Western forests."

(Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, on NBC's Today Show, June 24, 2002)

"Although every summer seems to bring another analysis of the "fire problem," America does not have one fire problem. It has many fire problems. Some, like the construction of houses along the forest fringe, are amenable to technical solutions, like zoning laws and fire codes that would abolish wooden roofs, for example. Some, like the need to accept fire in wilderness, must be dealt with politically. Others require site-by-site assessments and site-specific practices."

(Dr. James Pyne, Arizona State University Fire Historian, Meeting Fire on Its Terms, The New York Times, June 25, 2002)

The Editorial Boards
An Arizona Republic editorial: "The real culprit in this sorry saga has been the federal government's failed policy of decades of fire suppression -- misguided tactics symbolized by Smokey Bear. By stamping out fires quickly, forest managers allowed deadwood, dry underbrush and thickets of spindly trees to accumulate. This buildup of forest debris was like an open tank of gasoline, fueling the fires and turning them into infernos."

A Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial: "For centuries beyond counting, the great forests grew, then burned, then grew again as the ageless cycles of the earth played out. Then came the pioneers, and the settlers, bringing the trappings of civilization -- including the idea that nature's cleansing fires were not to be allowed -- and the pattern of random small fires was interrupted." The paper adds: "Nature can be blocked, but not conquered. Eventually, it will have its way."

The Demogoguery
"What these groups are missing is that catastrophic wildfire poses the single largest threat to many of these roadless areas," said Scott McInnis (R- Colo.). "I mean can anyone really say with a straight face that this 'let-it-burn' approach is good for the environment?"
(Associated Press, June 20, 2002)

"'In Colorado, three roadless areas are on fire right now,' said Keith Williams a House Agriculture Committee spokesman. The Bush administration has been unable to go in and do preventative work because of the Clinton administration's edict, which 'essentially makes these roadless areas wilderness areas, which they're not,' said Williams. 'That's not what they're intended to be. The Forest Service is I supposed to go in and be able to restoration management after a fire and also go in and prevent a fire. They're unable to do that and that's in large part why we're having these fires.'"
(E&E Daily, June 24, 2002)

"[Arizona Governor Jane] Hull and U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth, visiting the site, said the devastating fire should be a wake-up call to environmentalists and governments to change the way they manage the nation's forest."
(CNN, June 23, 2002)

"The policies that are coming from the East Coast, that are coming from the environmentalists, that say we don't need to log, we don't need to thin our forests are absolutely ridiculous," Hull said. "Nobody on the East Coast knows how to manage these fires and I for one have had it."
(Arizona Governor Jane Hull, to the Associated Press, June 24, 2002)

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