As We See It: When the Smoke Clears

As of this writing, the residents of Colorado are beginning to re-enter the area near Colorado Springs in an attempt to reclaim what is left of the neighborhoods that were taken from them during the peak of the Waldo Canyon Fire. The fire consumed over 17,000 acres of forestland, destroyed at least 346 homes, caused the emergency evacuation of 35,000 people and as of July 1 had cost the taxpayers over 8 million dollars in suppression efforts. After seeing first-hand the dead and dying forests in Colorado we, like other natural resource professionals, knew that it was a question of when, not if, those forests would burn.

While the Walden Canyon Fire garners much of the media attention because of the huge economic impact and potential for loss of property and life in and around the Colorado Springs area, there are major fires burning throughout the Western States, wrecking havoc on rural communities, and consuming millions of acres of our nation’s federal forest lands. The politically correct press reports that the reasons behind the intense fires are such things as low humidity, below average rainfall, global warming, and yes, even arson, but after reading press release after press release, we havefailed to find any mention of the diseased and dying federal forests that have become the catalyst for the intense wildfires that we are seeing in our nation’s forest today.

There are reasons the forests are burning beyond what the press will report, perhaps not as sensational to the public, but nonetheless just as important. We have federal policies in place to help protect the forests; the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the benchmark National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). All are all well-intentioned policies promulgated by Congress to assist and guide resource professionals in properly managing the forests, but most are now being used in litigation in federal courtrooms to obstruct professional management of our national forests.

According to a recent document the US House Natural Resources committee obtained from the Department of Justice, more than $15 million has been paid in attorneys’ fees in more than 570 Endangered Species Act cases in the last four years. Between 1989 and 2005, there were 949 federal lawsuits filed against the US Forest Service alone as reported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Many of those cases involved NEPA litigation, CWA litigation and ESA litigation. Often during litigation, a project is stalled or shut down while litigation proceeds.

Fire and insects do not pay attention to federal court orders or litigation. As projects are delayed that could prove beneficial to the health of our forests, environmental organizations are lining their pockets with taxpayer dollars at the expense of our National Forests. The CWA, ESA, and NEPA regulations have all become tools to be used at the forest and taxpayers expense in the game that is being played between “non-profit” environmental organizations and liberal courtrooms who are more than willing to interpret these well intended laws as a means of managing our forests for their own political agendas instead of the health of our environment.

Real reform in our environmental laws is needed to restore balance to the management of the National Forest system.

When the smoke clears, will there be an outcry to amend these policies which have become instruments for litigation, or will the general public and the administration once again forget about the need to properly manage our nation’s forests simply because they are no longer newsworthy? We intend to keep our focus on these issues because we care about the health and sustainability of our forests and the communities that depend on those forests.

by Danny Dructor, ALC Exec. VP

The American Loggers Council is a non-profit 501(c)(6) corporation representing professional timber harvesters in 30 states across the US. For more information, visit their web site at www.americanloggers.org or contact their office at 409-625-0206.