Who's to Blame for the Southwest's Wildfires?
The ironies of "be careful what you ask for" have never been clearer -- despite the smoky haze in Albuquerque and throughout New Mexico and Arizona. So far, some 700,000 acres have burned in just two fires, as a direct result of the federal government’s inability to manage forests in the Southwest. At the same time, the radical environmental groups who are responsible for these catastrophic fires are also involved in hearings in New Mexico on air quality -- and demanding expensive "pollution" controls on the suppliers of the state's electricity.
The connection between the radical environmental groups and these life-threatening fires is easy to make. Radical groups like WildEarth Guardians (WEG) (formerly Forest Guardians) and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) oppose all management and uses of national forests, including timber production (thinning) and livestock grazing. When national forests are not managed, they burn with intensive fury, killing wildlife, their habitats, jobs, communities, and part of our national heritage. The CBD and WEG claim they are trying to take America back to the way it looked prior to European settlement; but Native Americans also managed the landscape, so the attempt to eliminate human existence is not realistic, nor is it healthy for our national forests.
Now, as a result of the inability to manage national forests, the damage that has been done to air quality in New Mexico because of these and other fires will take months, if not years, to repair. Pet owners are now being asked to use caution in exercising their pets. For those with respiratory problems, air quality in Albuquerque and other areas is literally life-threatening.
For nearly two decades the US Forest Service (USFS) has spent much of its time and our taxpayer dollars fighting so-called environmental groups in litigation rather than pursuing common-sense forestry and land management practices that have been mandated in federal law. Rather than managing our region's forests for health and multiple uses, the USFS has been forced to nearly eliminate economic use and put at risk the wildlife populations that are supposed to be so near and dear to groups like the WEG and CBD.
These groups who have filed hundreds of lawsuits in New Mexico and Arizona and collected millions of taxpayer dollars to stop the USFS from managing for healthy forests claim to be doing good in the name of species like the Mexican spotted owl, the Mexican wolf, the spikedace, and the loach minnow. The list is almost endless. In every case, the answer the WEG and the CBD have called for, and often gotten, is the removal of management and economic activity such as logging, mining, and ranching.
Little seems to have been learned from the Rodeo-Chediski Fire in Arizona in 2002 -- when most of the area's habitat for the Mexican spotted owl was charred beyond recognition. Rather than understanding the horrors of their actions in removing logging and grazing that naturally keep the fuels that feed the past decade's catastrophic fires, these groups have filed more lawsuits, which keep the fire-ravaged areas from being rehabilitated. Natural resources that could be salvaged go unused.
The Mexican wolf, a species that has cost the American taxpayer millions of dollars and is on the verge of collapse, is further threatened by these ongoing catastrophic wildfires. According to the federal government, the Wallow Fire has already consumed the wolf habitat in Arizona. The habitat in New Mexico is now in the line of fire. How many wolves have survived the fire to this point? There is no answer to that question and there is unlikely to be one for time to come. However, it is not unreasonable to expect that wolves that have received millions of dollars in federal and state funding have been lost.
Even the availability of electric generation across many western states is at risk as the Wallow and Horseshoe fires indiscriminately race across landscapes that house power lines feeding homes and businesses from Texas to California. Despite the WEG’s hearing and press releases about potential pollution for electricity generation, the air quality that New Mexico and Arizona are suffering today can be laid directly at the feet of the WEG.
So that there is no misunderstanding, natural fire is not always bad. But when the fuel load is not controlled -- and it has not been for decades -- it becomes violent and dangerous to animal and man alike. In the mid 1990s, one Arizona forestry specialist noted that even at that point, the fuel load was comparable to setting a match to thirty oil tankers per acre. Over the past fifteen years, that number has probably increased tenfold. And it is one thing when fires are “natural” -- but in this case, the fires are believed to be intentionally set by drug backpackers trying to evade US Border Patrol.
Whether the issue is air quality, forest management, or productive natural resource use, it is time for the citizens of this nation to stand up and take control of our forests back from radical environmental groups. It is time to stop paying these groups to destroy our treasured forests and their wildlife -- not to mention the people who live, work, and play there.