Editorial: An ounce of wildfire prevention worth a pound of cure

A house burns in Napa County, Calif., in October. (Getty Images)

Wildfires have become an increasingly costly and devastating problem in the West over the past decades as federal land managers have increasingly restricted logging and road building and maintenance.

The average number of acres burned each year in the past decade has topped 6 million, compared to 3 million a year in the 1970s. As of the end of October of this year there already had been nearly 53,000 fires that burned more than 8.8 million acres. In 2015, 9.7 million acres burned by the end of October.

The cost just for fighting wildfires this year is approaching a record breaking $3 billion, and that doesn’t take into account the economic costs of burned homes, agriculture and infrastructure. The wine country fires in mid-October in northern California are estimated to have resulted in $85 billion in economic losses.

The cost of fighting fires for the Forest Service has grown over the recent years from 15 percent of the agency’s annual budget to 55 percent.

Currently there are efforts on two fronts to change land management practices and spending from the costly and dangerous battling of fires to actually preventing them from occurring.

Earlier this year, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who is over the Bureau of Land Management, and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, who heads the Forest Service, directed all federal land agencies to adopt more aggressive efforts to prevent wildfire through robust fuels reduction and other prevention techniques.

“This administration will take a serious turn from the past and will proactively work to prevent forest fires through aggressive and scientific fuels reduction management to save lives, homes, and wildlife habitat. It is well settled that the steady accumulation and thickening of vegetation in areas that have historically burned at frequent intervals exacerbates fuel conditions and often leads to larger and higher-intensity fires,” said Secretary Zinke in a press release. “These fires are more damaging, more costly, and threaten the safety and security of both the public and firefighters. In recent fire reviews, I have heard this described as ‘a new normal.’ It is unacceptable that we should be satisfied with the status quo. We must be innovative and where new authorities are needed, we will work with our colleagues in Congress to craft management solutions that will benefit our public lands for generations to come.”

On that Congressional front, this past week the House passed and sent to the Senate the Resilient Federal Forests Act, sponsored by Rep. Bruce Westerman, an Arkansas Republican and licensed forester, that would shorten the environmental review process for forest thinning, curb frivolous litigation by self-styled environmentalists and allow federal land managers to contract with private lumber mills to remove dead and dying trees and use the proceeds of the timber sale to better manage the lands.

The bill passed 232-188, largely along party lines, with less than a dozen Democratic votes. Nevada Republican Rep. Mark Amodei voted in favor of the bill, while Nevada Democrats Dina Titus, Jacky Rosen and Ruben Kihuen opposed it.

“This is a bill based on a simple idea — that we must do more to expand active management in federal forests,” Republican Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, was quoted as saying. “With this bill, we tackle not only the symptoms of the crisis but also its root causes. We provide the resources for our firefighters, but also tools for our land managers to improve conditions on the ground and proactively mitigate the threat of wildfire.”

Rep. Amodei spoke on the floor of the House in 2015 in support of a similar bill that passed the House but died in the Senate, noting the need for fire prevention because once high desert forests in Nevada burn it takes a hundred years for them to grow back. He also noted that the fires devastate endangered and threatened species and their habitat.

Oddly enough, one of the main arguments against the bill by the environmentalists is that logging threatens endangered and threatened species. More so than raging wildfire?

We applaud the efforts by Secretaries Zinke and Perdue to spend our money more wisely and encourage the Senate to pass the the Resilient Federal Forests Act.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Advertisements

Newspaper column: Tax reform bill divides Nevada delegation along party lines

Like everything else to come out of Washington, the House tax reform bill introduced this past week has turned into a partisan hissing match in a fact-free zone.

Republicans hail it as an economy stimulating second coming, while Democrats decry it as a sop to the wealthy and a death knell for the middle class.

The bill lowers the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, doubles the standard deduction, lowers the individual tax rates for all but millionaires, allows 100 percent expensing of business costs instead of the current 50 percent, eliminates deductions for state and local taxes, except for property taxes, and allows mortgage interest deduction.

Republican Dean Heller said the bill will provide tax relief for middle class families, while Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto said the bill rewards corporations and the rich at the expense of working families, seniors and the poor.

“As a member of the U.S. Senate’s tax-writing committee, I’m waking up each and every day with the sole focus of ensuring that Nevada’s hardworking families and small business owners come out ahead when the Senate passes its final product,” Heller said in a statement, adding, “I’m going to continue fighting for a major tax overhaul that will help my state and push for policies that will create jobs, boost growth, and make it easier for Nevadans to provide a better life for their kids.”

A Cortez Masto press release fulminated, “Republicans in Congress have one priority: ripping off America’s middle class and working families. Rather than transparently writing a bill that puts economic growth and American’s financial security first, the current Republican tax proposal targets Nevada families. The latest Republican proposals would put our country even further in debt, take money out of working families pocketbooks …”

Cortez Masto also claimed, “The average tax increase on families nationwide earning up to $86,100 would be $794.”

But the Washington Post fact checked that claim and found it was based on a report by Democrats on the Joint Economic Committee who actually said, “If enacted, the Republican tax reform proposal would saddle 8 million households that earn up to $86,100 with an average tax increase of $794 …”

But you see, there are 122 million households making less than $86,100. Thus only 6.5 percent of those households would see a tax hike of that amount. The Post reported that more than 97 million, or 80 percent, of that group would get a tax cut averaging about $450.

Republicans say the bill would result in a tax savings of $1,182 for a typical household of four with gross income of $59,000, resulting in their tax bill being only $400.

Las Vegas Democratic Rep. Dina Titus joined the partisan fray by calling the bill “a red herring tax plan that relies on the myth of trickle-down economics in order to give the nation’s top earners a handout.”

Titus said she could not see how working families could save money if the bill removes certain deductions, including the one for state and local sales taxes — ignoring the fact 70 percent of Americans take the standard deduction and do not itemize, nor the fact Nevadans who do itemize can deduct only about 10 percent as much as taxpayers in high-tax states such as California and New York and thus are subsidizing those states.

Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen, who represents southern rural Nevada and northern Clark County, used the occasion to solicit contributions while slamming the bill by saying, “We expected Paul Ryan and the Republicans would bend over backwards to make big corporations and the super rich the winners in this plan, and that’s exactly what they did. Meanwhile, it’s all at your expense.”

Republican Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents northern Nevada, took a more nuanced approach, promising in an email to constituents to thoroughly research the 429-page bill, while also saying, “I think we can all agree the American taxpayer would be better off if Congress were to reform our current tax code in favor of a system that is simpler, fairer, and has lower tax rates.”

The bill also eliminates the $7,500 tax credit for purchasing electric cars, such as Teslas, whose batteries are built in Sparks, and drops the tax exemption for municipal bonds to finance sports stadiums, such as the one planned for Las Vegas for the Raiders.

Next, Congress needs to address the runaway federal spending.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

(AP pix)

A little difference of opinions over covering the news

On his contribution-financed news website, The Nevada Independent, editor Jon Ralston posted a commentary, under the headline “Cutting off The Indy spites the public we serve,” this week complaining about public officials refusing to talk to his reporters — specifically state Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, Attorney General Adam Laxalt and U.S. Sen. Dean Heller.

The piece quoted a Roberson aide as texting a reporter: “Senator Roberson only provides commentary to reputable news outlets. He does not consider The Nevada Independent as such.”

At one point Ralston suggested that elected officials refusing to talk to certain reporters was tantamount to violating public records laws.

He proclaimed:

“This is not about me or our team of journalists whining about access. This is about public officials, staffers, and agencies depriving the public of important information, context and nuance. They are not hurting me or The Indy. They are sullying the civic fabric by preventing access to information that drives essential public dialogue.

“Finally, a word on a laughable claim. Roberson, Laxalt and Heller have whispered that I am a Democratic partisan. Not only is that not so, but it is low to insinuate and patently false to say that any of our news stories have a partisan slant. Indeed, anyone who knows any of our reporters knows none of them would stand for me trying to inject my bias into their stories, even if I tried, which I never have and never would.”

 

In the online-no-love-lost-between-rivals there came a couple of rejoinders.

Victor Joecks, a conservative Review-Journal columnist, responded on Twitter with this critique: “Free advice: Conflating a govt official not responding to a reporter’s request for comment with a govt official not answering a public information request is one of the reasons folks think you’re a hack and just out to smear them.”

But conservative blogger Chuck Muth unleashed a 1,200-word diatribe that had to leave a welt.

Muth pointed that two days earlier Ralston had penned a screed in which he outlined the standards The Nevada Independent would use to cover elections. Ralston said that “there is no public benefit in covering candidates who have clearly demonstrated they are unfit for public office or who have zero chance of getting elected no matter what coverage they get.”

To which Muth replied, “In short, Blogger Jon will subjectively decide who is a credible candidate worthy of attention and who isn’t.”

Muth twisted the knife:

It seems a number of candidates and elected officials don’t consider the Ralston Rag to be a credible news organization and have been refusing to give his newsblog the time of day.

Indeed, Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson is quoted as saying he only “provides commentary to reputable news outlets” and “does not consider The Nevada Independent as such.”

In other words, Roberson is treating Ralston the exact same way Ralston, just two days earlier, announced he’ll be treating certain candidates based on credibility.  Shoe on the other foot.  Sauce for the goose.

Ralston went on to spew forth his venom at Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt and U.S. Sen. Dean Heller for also blowing off interview requests from the Ralston Rag, whining that such blacklisting “is not just puerile (Jon loves to use fancy words to appear smarter than everyone else); it’s unethical and unconscionable.”

Military lapse in providing criminal records to FBI is nothing new

There oughta be a law, people say when anything goes awry.

Government officials and bureaucrats can fix it, right?

So, when the guy in Texas killed two dozen churchgoers we learn he should not have been allowed to buy the guns he used under existing law. It seems the law on the books was not enforced. The Air Force was supposed to inform the FBI about his domestic violence conviction, but failed to do so.

It turns out, according to the AP, this is not something new.

“A February 1997 report by the Pentagon inspector general found widespread lapses,” the news service recounts. “Fingerprint cards were not submitted to the FBI criminal history files in more than 80 percent of cases in the Army and Navy, and 38 percent in the Air Force.

“Failure to report the outcome of criminal cases was 79 percent in the Army and 50 percent in the Air Force, the report said. In the Navy, it was 94 percent.”

Laws that are not enforced are useless.

The failure to turnover records about the Texas church shooter is under review. That’s what they said 20 years ago.

Scene of Texas church shooting (AP pix)

 

Head spinning developments in the so-far ‘non-trial’ of Bunkerville defendants

Caution: Following the Bunkerville standoff trial proceedings can cause whiplash.

Today the federal judge again delayed the start of the trial for Cliven Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan, and self-styled militia member Ryan Payne. This time for a week. She agreed to hold hearings after Cliven Bundy’s attorney asked the charges be dropped because the prosecution had failed to reveal any recordings or notes taken off live surveillance video of the Bundy ranch during the April 2014 standoff. Ryan Bundy raised the question as to whether there was surveillance video several weeks ago.

“If it has potentially useful information, then the defense is entitled to it,” the judge is quoted by Reuters as saying. “I‘m not convinced that it doesn’t exist.”

The federal agents reportedly shredded documents after the standoff ended.

And now, after more than a year and a half in jail, the judge said she would hold a hearing Thursday to determine the four men should be hould be released from jail during the trial. “It’s possible a halfway-house setting could be devised,” the judge is quoted as saying by the AP. Now but not a year and half ago?

The four face felony charges, including conspiracy, assault and threats against federal officers, firearms counts, obstruction and extortion for which a conviction could carry a sentence of 170 year in prison.

So far, in the case — which goes out of the armed protest against the BLM attempted confiscation of Bundy’s cattle for refusing to pay grazing fees — two have been acquitted by a jury, two have pleaded to a misdemeanor and released on time served, one pleaded to conspiracy charge and faces up to six years in prison, another was convicted and sentenced to seven years another was convicted and sentenced to 68 years in prison and still another was convicted and is awaiting sentencing but faces up to 30 years.
 The trial of six more defendants, including two more Bundy sons, Dave and Mel Bundy, is scheduled for 30 days after the current trial ends.

Equal justice or crapshoot?

Outside courthouse (R-J pix)

A jury of their peers? Hardly

A federal jury is set to begin hearing opening statements Tuesday in the trial of four defendants in the Bunkerville standoff.

There are six women and six men on the jury and there are four alternates, three men and a woman.

The judge said the trial is expected to take four months. A number of potential jurors were dismissed because they could not take four months out of their lives to devote to the trial. How many people can or are willing to? Is it a jury of their peers?

On trial are rancher Cliven Bundy, 71, sons Ammon Bundy, 42, and Ryan Bundy, 45, and a self-styled militia member Ryan Payne, 34, who showed up to protest the confiscation of Bundy’s cattle by the BLM. They are charged with conspiracy, extortion and various firearm charges. They have all been jailed for going on two years.

How can 16 people be found who can devote a third of a year of their lives to sitting in a jury box listening to tedious and repetitious testimony who are resentative of the population as a whole? It is not possible. The jurors are by definition outliers.

The jurors were asked 110 questions about their opinions on guns, protests, ranching, familiarity with the case, etc. Who but a hermit hasn’t heard of the case? Who doesn’t have opinions on guns, protests and ranching?

Peers? Hardly.

Federal courthouse in Las Vegas (AP pix)

According to The Oregonian, the jurors include:

— An Oregon native who moved to Nevada about four and a half years ago. She said she used to spend time in the Portland, Bend and Sunriver areas before moving to Nevada, where she enjoys the weather.

— A man who works at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and was there when the Oct. 1 shooting occurred and was escorted out of the casino at the time. He’s lived in Nevada for 25 years and said he likes the entertainment and slow place.

— A Texas native who said he’s lived in Nevada for nine years.

— A Nevada native who has spent 35 of his 45 years in the state. He said he liked Las Vegas for its 24-hour lifestyle.

— A woman who has lived in Nevada for 25 years, and during questioning, said she felt protests have become more violent in recent years.

— A Nevada native who recalled that her high school graduation was held at the Las Vegas convention center.

— A Minnesota native who said she has lived here about 30 years and likes the weather.

— A Nevada native who cited some “mild reservations” about repercussions to her family from serving on a jury in this case.

— A New Mexico native who said she enjoys the city parks and dog parks in the Las Vegas area.

Among the alternates is:

— A man who was questioned often about having seen some campaign literature that mentioned Cliven Bundy. The man said his step-uncle tried to show him the flier and believed Cliven Bundy was innocent. But the man said he wasn’t interested in looking at it. He also said he didn’t know much about the case. He raised his hand when Ryan Bundy asked if jurors understood what a “redress of grievance” is and he voiced his opinion that he doesn’t think an average person should have a “weapon of terror.”

— A man who said he understands there’s a constitutional right to bear arms, but that over time, amendments are adopted that reflect changes in the environment or society.

Editorial: Time to relax professional job licensing burden

We have ranted and railed for years about the excessive and job killing professional licensing requirements in Nevada — to no avail.

Nevada has long ranked among the worst locales in the nation for limiting competition for jobs in certain professions — and not just doctors and lawyers, but also bricklayers, makeup artists, bus drivers, painters, manicurists and animal trainers.

Nationally, over the past 60 years, the number of jobs requiring an occupational license has grown from about one in 20 to about one in four.

According to a study just released by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, Nevada ranked third worst in the nation for burdensome fees, training and apprenticeship requirements, behind only Tennessee and Alabama. The study suggests Nevada could increase employment by nearly 8.5 percent by merely reducing the professional licensing burden.

“When considering reforms to occupational licensing in their respective states, lawmakers are responsible for balancing concerns about public safety with the maintenance of an economic environment that ensures opportunity for all,” The Wisconsin Institute study concludes. “Protected interests in regulated occupations will, almost universally, oppose reductions in the burdens of licensure. It is often in their interest to maintain, and even raise, barriers to entry. But policymakers are now armed with statistical evidence that rigorous licensing burdens result in less employment in certain regulated professions. If protected interests cannot offer clear and substantiated proof that current licensing regulations are critical to protecting the public, policymakers must consider the forgotten men and women that those lower employment figures represent.”

Are the protections worth it?

Too often such licensing is little more than a protection racket for those in certain professions who don’t want any more competition.

A year ago, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, which litigates to advance liberty by challenging government encroachment and restrictions, found that Nevada is the most expensive state in which to work in a licensed lower- and moderate-income occupation. The average licensing fee was $505. The law also requires an average of 601 days of education and experience and two exams, IJ found.

IJ also noted that Nevada’s education and experience requirements don’t seem to align with public safety concerns. “Emergency medical technicians can earn a license with just about 26 days of training. This is far less training than required of barbers, mobile home installers, cosmetologists, makeup artists, skin care specialists, manicurists and massage therapists,” IJ recounted.

In fact, to become an interior designer in Nevada requires 2,190 days of experience and/or education, while one can obtain a security guard license and a child care worker license at no cost with only two days of training.

Bills in both the 2015 and 2017 Nevada legislative sessions to modestly reform licensing requirement died without ever getting a hearing.

But perhaps there is an inkling of hope.

According to the Washington Examiner, representatives of 11 states, including Nevada, are planning to meet in Tucson, Ariz., in December to examine ways to lighten the burden of professional licensing laws, especially for jobs that do not require a college degree. The meeting is being coordinated by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Governors’ Association and the Council of State Governments.

The licensing requirements also vary wildly from state to state and can be a hindrance for relocation, especially people such as military spouses who move frequently.

A 2015 study by the Brookings Institution found job restrictions resulted in 2.8 million fewer jobs nationally and raised consumer costs by $203 billion annually.

Are the protections worth it?

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.