- The Washington Times - Friday, June 8, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Are we killing our forests with the same sort of environmental zealotry that is harming our energy industry? The “superfire” burning out of control in New Mexico has consumed more than 400 square miles of acreage (“Fire largest in New Mexico history,” Web, May 30). Could this disastrous fire and many more like it have been avoided if proper forest management practices were used?

The Lake Tahoe basin, which sits on the border of California and Nevada, is managed by a maze of bureaucratic environmental agencies. Through ineptitude, those agencies did not allow property owners even to hand-clean brush on their properties for fear it would intrude on the “natural state” of the forest. As a result, the area was consumed by a superfire, which burned down 253 homes and consumed 3,100 acres.

Beginning in the late 1960s, a new attitude started to pervade our state and national forest-management practices. Fire, long the key tool in maintaining healthy forests, started to become a bad word in the environmental world. Forest fires caused air pollution - and a charred forest doesn’t generate tourist dollars to such beautiful locales as Yellowstone or Yosemite.

The original forest management practiced by American Indian tribes was deliberate setting of fire to the woods because the tribes knew that a few years later the forests would be healthier and more vibrant. Wood-destroying pests, undergrowth and built-up downfalls would be destroyed, while the trees usually survived. This same sort of management tool was used extensively by forest management in Western states to clean forests and create firebreaks that would stop future wildfires.

But now forest-management policies have gotten us to the point where many of our forests are choked with undergrowth and are under assault by pests that are killing trees. Furthermore, when the inevitable lightning strike hits one of these man-caused tinderboxes, a superfire - with temperatures so high nothing survives - occurs.

Fire officials say they still set preventive fires when allowed to by Environmental Protection Agency rules governing air quality and when weather conditions are correct. But many of us are left wondering if it takes as long to get a burning permit as it does to get a drilling permit on federal lands.

ED FARNAN

San Francisco

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