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.

Congressman Hardy seeks to hold the line on federal land acquisitions

Nevada freshman Congressman Cresent Hardy has introduced his first piece of legislation in Congress, and it might best be described as an effort to hold the line on federal public lands control.

Dubbed the LAND Act (Land Acquisition to cut National Debt Act), Hardy’s bill would prohibit the Interior and Agriculture departments from using tax money to increase the net acreage of land under their control during years in which the federal budget is not balanced — and when did that last happen or will in the future?

As Hardy points out in his floor speech introducing the bill, federal agencies control 81 percent of Nevada, and some estimates go as high as 87 percent. The congressman noted the federal land agencies control 640 million acres, nearly a third of the United States’ land, and has a maintenance backlog of $23 billion. They can’t keep up with what they already have.

During an editorial board at the Las Vegas newspaper several years ago a high ranking Interior Department official stated that it was the agency’s goal to never decrease the acreage under its control, thus for every acre it might sell in one area it would attempt acquire a like number of acres elsewhere.

“Simply put, this bill tells the federal government that responsibly and efficiently managing the 640 million acres of land it already controls must be a higher priority than acquiring even more private, state and tribal land,” Congressman Hardy said on the House floor today.

“The federal government has bitten off more than it can chew, and it cannot be trusted to serve as a responsible steward of even more of our lands and resources. I’m a Nevadan. The federal government controls more than 81 percent of my state, and I think I speak for most of my constituents when I say, enough is enough.”

According to the Congressional Research Service, form 1990 to 2010, the federal government did actually trim its holdings, but by less than 3 percent. The total federal land in Nevada was trimmed by 5 percent, probably largely due to federal land being consumed by the development of industry and housing in Clark County. Federal land holdings in Iowa actually increased 269 percent.

Federal land holdings in the West in 2010. (Congressional Research Service

Federal land holdings in the West in 2010. (Congressional Research Service)



Washington issues an order and no one raises a bleat of objection

Apparently we and the journalists tasked to keep us informed have become so inured to just taking orders from the central planners back at the Kremlin on the Potomac that no one raises the least bit of objection to the most invidious invasion of our affairs and lives.

School vending machines. (AP photo)

In a 1,000-word article by The Associated Press, it is dutifully reported that the Agriculture Department is ordering schools to allow only healthy low-calorie, low-fat, low-salt meals and snacks. Just once in the entire article is any resistance to the nanny-statism even mentioned, and only as the generic “conservatives, including some Republicans in Congress, who said the government shouldn’t be telling kids what to eat.”

Even today’s Review-Journal editorial criticizing the order is largely built around the fact it is a waste of money.

Where in the Constitution does it authorize any branch of the federal government to dictate what our children eat? For that matter where does it authorize an Agriculture Department?

Its very existence stretches the Commerce and Necessary and Proper clauses beyond credulity.

We now have the answer to Justice Antonin Scalia’s question during the ObamaCare litigation, “Everybody has to buy food sooner or later. Therefore, you can make people buy broccoli?”

But what is most galling is the way in which 99.9 percent of Americans swallow such dictates with utter docility, without question, without objection.

Brutus predicted in Anti-Federalist Paper No. 17:

“But what is meant is, that the legislature of the United States are vested with the great and uncontrollable powers of laying and collecting taxes, duties, imposts, and excises; of regulating trade, raising and supporting armies, organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, instituting courts, and other general powers; and are by this clause invested with the power of making all laws, proper and necessary, for carrying all these into execution; and they may so exercise this power as entirely to annihilate all the State governments, and reduce this country to one single government. And if they may do it, it is pretty certain they will; for it will be found that the power retained by individual States, small as it is, will be a clog upon the wheels of the government of the United States; the latter, therefore, will be naturally inclined to remove it out of the way. Besides, it is a truth confirmed by the unerring experience of ages, that every man, and every body of men, invested with power, are ever disposed to increase it, and to acquire a superiority over everything that stands in their way. This disposition, which is implanted in human nature, will operate in the Federal legislature to lessen and ultimately to subvert the State authority, and having such advantages, will most certainly succeed, if the Federal government succeeds at all. It must be very evident, then, that what this Constitution wants of being a complete consolidation of the several parts of the union into one complete government, possessed of perfect legislative, judicial, and executive powers, to all intents and purposes, it will necessarily acquire in its exercise in operation.”