Friday, July 04, 2003

Republicans for the Ecosystem. Yeah, Right.

The large, and destructive, fire atop Mount Lemmon outside Tucson has put some of our congressional delegation into unusual contortions. They can't blame environmentalists for stopping forest-thinning and fire-reduction projects on the Catalina Mountains, or even in the entire Coronado National Forest, and have to justify having steered wildly inadequate Forest Service resources to fire projects out in the middle of nowhere. In Arizona, two projects near Flagstaff--both near houses and communities--haven't received funding while the Forest Service fights to allow logging of mature trees north of the Grand Canyon. It's the GOP environmental motto: Do last things first!

Saving the Forests

East Valley Tribune, Jun. 29, 2003

The Tribune editorial page tried pinning the Mount Lemmon fire on the usual suspects; hit the F6 key and another editorial emerges blaming environmentalists, environmental laws, and appeals of Forest Service projects. There was just one problem with using last year’s ideology on this year’s fires -- the truth.

As noted by several environmental activists on this page Thursday, environmental appeals played no role in the Aspen fire. Unfortunately for the “log first, think later” crowd, nobody ever challenged any planned fuel reduction projects in the Catalina Mountains. In the entire Coronado National Forest, millions of acres, it appears there was only one, quickly-resolved, appeal filed, and the project went forward.

Blaming forest fires on environmental appeal delays is the Iraqi WMD of our national forests -- a cynical way to push a pre-existing agenda, with an argument that depends on exaggerating data, ignoring evidence, and substituting ideology for fact.

Instead of environmental appeals, the reality is that fuel-reduction programs aren’t going forward because the Bush administration and the GOP Congress aren’t funding them. Forest health apparently just isn’t important enough. While Arizona’s drought worsens, the Republicans funded fewer and fewer acres of fuel reduction programs each of the past three years.

In 2001, the Coronado National Forest got funding for tree thinning, brush removal, and controlled burns for some 5,000 acres; in 2002, for 1,800 acres; and in 2003, for a measly 202 acres. This year, the Forest Service requested $1 million for fuel reduction around Summerhaven atop Mount Lemmon; the Bush administration and Congress gave them only $120,000.

Unlike some politicians, the numbers don’t lie. As Arizona’s fire danger has increased, the Republicans have responded as they only know how: By doing less.

As doing less isn’t enough, they actually want to make things worse by doing what little they’re willing to fund in really, really remote areas.

Suddenly, with the flames highlighting their record, the GOP must justify spending scare tax dollars (that pesky discretionary federal spending that we must cut to justify those tax cuts) miles from nowhere. Instead of dealing with an immediate crisis at the forest interface, where people are at greatest risk and where basically everybody agrees on the need to act, key Republicans suddenly start worrying about -- get this -- the “ecosystem.”

There’s Sen. Jon Kyl, who says it’s not enough to protect communities from an immediate crisis when we also should “protect the greater forest and its wildlife.”

Rep. J. D. Hayworth also won’t let the Forest Service concentrate on doing the most important work first. Instead, he wants the federal government also to “protect the forestland and the ecosystems and wildlife and watersheds as well.” Sheesh -- who’s the environmental extremist now?

Since when do these guys care about wildlife and ecosystems? Since when is it good governance to spend scarce tax dollars in lower-priority ways and therefore do increasingly less in the places facing the greatest dangers?

The so-called “Healthy Forest Initiative” isn’t about health or forests, and the only initiatives are to eliminate public input and gut environmental protections. To the Bush administration, the fires are a smokescreen, hiding their real goal of helping GOP timber industry contributors, who make their money miles from the homes, communities, and people at greatest risk.

Follow the money, people. For the past three years, the Republicans in Washington have pointed fingers at environmentalists, all while funding fewer and fewer acres for fuel reduction programs in the areas facing the greatest dangers from fire.

If they actually considered forest health important, the Bush administration would devote resources to it. They’re responsible for this job. They haven’t done it.

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