Up in Smoke…The U.S. Forest Service’s Policies Harm the Environment and Ruin Lives

We’ve known for some time that the philosophies and subsequent policies of environmental extremist organizations promote the well-being of trees and animals over that of men, women and children. Or do they? These days it appears the missions of such organizations do nothing but harm everyone and everything.

This year over six million acres and 500 homes in western states, mostly on federally controlled lands and National Forests, have been disintegrated due to the U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) scorched earth policy. This tragedy was avoidable and at the very least could have been drastically minimized by a more sensible approach to forest management.

The USFS, due to pressure from radical environmental groups and misguided Clinton/Gore policies, has been operating under the guideline: “don’t touch the forests under any circumstances.” This is not only devastating for millions of Americans who depend on access to the land for their livelihood, but also for the forests, as it is a tremendous flaw in sound fire prevention policy.

Proper forest management requires that dead wood be removed from the forest floor and selective logging be permitted. This not only contributes to the health of the forest, but it also encourages new growth and robs wildfires of the fuel they need to burn out of control. Radical environmentalists know this. They just don’t care. They’ll be darned if something as miniscule as sound forest management is going to get in the way of their radical agenda. Unfortunately, the USFS has succumbed to their lawsuit threats, and is content to capitulate to their mission.

But one county is fighting back.

The citizens of Otero County, New Mexico, have seen enough damage done to their neck of the woods. Their Lincoln National Forest has lost 17,000 acres to USFS mismanagement fires and 64 homes have been destroyed in the surrounding area. All of this amounts to 2.3 million dollars in property damage, and has prompted Otero County Commissioners to declare a state of emergency. They have submitted a resolution calling for the Governor of New Mexico to take charge of federal lands and address the fire danger. In short: Thanks, but no thanks, Feds. We like our forests rare, not well done.

This resolution comes as good news to many allotment owners and logging companies, as they have watched the agenda of the USFS shift from forest management to land acquisition. They have been mostly helpless as the USFS continues to gear its forest mismanagement policies toward driving livestock grazing and logging from the nation’s forests.

As the folks in Otero County fight for the right to manage their own land in New Mexico, longtime property rights champion and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage, is hammering the Forest Service on Capitol Hill. Rep. Chenoweth-Hage stated recently:

“In recent years, the USDA (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture) Forest Service has gone from being a model of federal organizational effectiveness to ‘the gang that can’t shoot straight.’ Recent debacles include: 1) the inability of the agency to demonstrate elemental financial accountability; 2) their failure over the past 10 years to take decisive action in reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfires in the western U.S.; and 3) substitution of partisan politics for science based management and policy decisions as demonstrated by the President’s roadless initiative, planning regulation revision, and monument creation. The result is an organization with low employee morale, lack of public trust, and an inability to effectively manage the National Forests.”

J. Zane Walley, writing for the Paragon Foundation, states: “Otero County’s resolution is the answer to a cry for help across this great nation to save our national forests—and the nation is watching.” The nation is indeed watching. Land management and property rights issues are becoming more and more prominent in the national spotlight. And as evidence of USFS mismanagement continues to pile up, more counties and local municipalities will demand the right to manage their own natural resources—and rightly so.

Tom DeWeese
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Tom DeWeese is President of the American Policy Center and National Grassroots Coordinator for CFACT (Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow) working to help local activists organize into Freedom Pods (www.CFACT.org). He is also the author of three books, including Now Tell Me I Was Wrong, ERASE, and Sustainable: the WAR on Free Enterprise, Private Property, and Individuals.