EDITORIAL: No taming the Western wildfires

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The West is on fire again. A hot, dry early summer has transformed the region into a tinderbox. Scores of wildfires have charred 1.3 million acres across seven states, and 19 firefighters died in a single day battling a mountain blaze north of Phoenix. The Washington bureaucracy’s reply to the fire alarm is to wait for the climate to change.

A bipartisan group of Western senators put out the distress call on Friday, accusing the Obama administration of failing to set up a special wildland fire management program. A 2009 law was supposed to set up reserve accounts to pay for wildfire emergencies, but the vaults remain empty. Instead of spending money for clearing deadwood from the forest floor, federal money is used to fight the blazes after the fire is over. “This approach to paying for firefighting is nonsensical and further increases wildland fire costs,” the senators, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mark Udall of Utah and James Risch of Idaho, said in a letter to the Office of Management and Budget and the Agriculture and Interior departments.

The strategy has failed. Wildfires consumed a record 9.3 million acres last year and this year the devastation is likely to match that. In June, wildfires swept through Colorado’s Black Forest, north of Colorado Springs, scorching 16,000 acres, incinerating nearly 500 structures, and killing two persons. Separate blazes have spread over 125 square miles northeast of Durango. Other large fires have consumed acreage in Arizona, New Mexico and California.

One explanation of the administration response is ideological, from a White House obsessed with the idea that man is destroying the planet. In an energy policy speech at Georgetown University on June 25, President Obama attributed a host of calamities, including wildfires, to global warming: Last summer, he said, “was the warmest year in our history … Western wildfires scorched an area larger than the state of Maryland.” The mounting toll of charred acreage provides useful anecdotes to spin into “evidence” speculation that the planet is warming.

Smokey Bear’s famous slogan, “Only you can prevent forest fires,” could be replaced with, “Only joint action with the United Nations can prevent wildfires.” A Climate Change Plan would cut carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants and less greenhouse gas would reduce global warming, reducing forest fires. Unless we all quit exhaling carbon dioxide, it won’t work.

Several members of the House of Representatives have a better idea. The Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act would authorize governors or the secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to designate threatened public forests as high-risk areas. The act would enable contracting work to reduce hazardous fuels and to suppress the tree-killing bark beetle, which contributes to the deadwood buildup. The measure would give immediate to the tinder-dry West and do a lot more good than Mr. Obama’s climate-change rain dance.

The Washington Times

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