Tom Flynn tracks policy related to conservation and recreation for the Outdoor Alliance. Most Fridays, he summarizes the week’s top outdoor policy related headlines. With questions, news tips and angry hate mail, email him at tom [at] outdooralliance [dot] net.
Hot and Loaded: Fires in the West
With last week’s tragic loss of 19 firefighters, wildfires consumed much of the news this week. The basic facts are these. With a changing climate, the West is hotter and drier. How bad is it? This interactive map relates temperatures, snow packs and fires and shows that some states, like Idaho, have seen the number of large wildfires per year quadruple. The forests themselves have suffered from disease and insects and are overloaded from a century of overzealous fire suppression. Add in a large and growing number of dispersed houses in fire prone areas – 1 million of which were built in California, Washington and Oregon since 1990 – and we have a particularly flammable and dangerous mix. Much of the discussion has focused on whether firefighting policy increasingly risks lives for the sake of houses. Some have called for wildfire insurance, not unlike flood insurance, for risky homes. The impulse to address policies for zoning, firefighting and insurance after a wake up call like Yarnell Hill is a good one. But there is always the risk of opportunists twisting tragedy for their own ends. Senators and Congressmen from the top environment committees also weighed in this week. On the Senate side, they reasonably objected to the nearly 50% reduction in wildfire prevention budgets. On the House side, the committee held a hearing Thursday, mostly about logging. This is where things get tricky. Considering the deadly fire in Arizona was on state and private land and was seemingly not the result of inadequate thinning, logging on Federal public land is beside the point. These deaths should not look like dollar signs to the logging industry.
Threats and Our Responsibility to Public Lands
Recently, the National Wildlife Federation released a comprehensive report called Valuing our Public Lands. In it, they look at both definitions of value – as a noun meaning the economic value and as a verb meaning to value, cherish and treasure these places. The report covers all the economic impacts of public lands; from the outdoor recreation economy to the harder to measure, but equally important fact that protected lands draw valuable business and people to cities that could use the boost. The report also covers all the recent and ongoing threats our public lands face: attempts to transfer all Federal land in 7 states, Congressional attacks on longstanding public land protections, and so on. Here’s the kicker. Polls show that a majority of people value our land and oppose these threats. Yet many of our elected officials are the source of the threats. The only explanation for this gap is that we don’t actually know how our representatives feel about public land. That means we need to get educated, and get heard.