President Bush Offers Plan To Protect Homes and the Environment From More Catastrophic Wild Fires; Environmental Extremists Counter With Plans to Continue the Disasters

BACKGROUND: President Bush, on Thursday, August 22, 2002, issued his initiative to prevent catastrophic wildfires by returning to the sound forest management practices the environmental movement has successfully eliminated.

Stung by criticism that the policies set forth by the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and a host of others have put our forests and forest communities at risk, these groups are now criticizing the President’s plan. In doing so, they are offering their own plans — plans that recommend a continuation of policies preventing responsible logging and thinning of overfueled forests, while providing little protection for communities and absolutely none for the environment.

Since many in the media and elsewhere are likely to reflexively accept the environmental smokescreen of criticism and false promises, the following responses are offered to clear the air.

Environmentalists: Forest fires are natural and should be allowed to burn, except where homes and other structures are nearby.

Response 1: There is nothing natural about today’s catastrophic monster fires in federal forests, which are gorged with fuel because environmentalists have blocked sound forest management for years.

Response 2: Many of today’s fires are much hotter and faster-moving than anything nature ever designed, posing a real threat to environment and forest communities.

Response 3: Today we know and understand the harmful effects of air pollution. Monster fires spew tons of pollutants, including fine particulate matter, which the Environmental Protection Agency has recently classified as a health hazard.

Environmentalists: This year’s fires are big because of drought and Forest Service fire fighting strategies.

Response: Drought does not cause big fires, excessive dry fuel does. Historic forests averaged 30-40 trees per acre while today’s national forests have 200-300 trees per acre, sometimes more, all competing for the same water.

Environmentalists: Today’s fires are no bigger than those of the past.

Response: Simply not true. The size of today’s fires is double the 10-year average. They look small only when compared to historic fires that burned many acres with much less intensity and little damage.

Environmentalists: We should only thin forests in areas 150 to 500 feet around homes to protect the homes.

Response 1: In many cases, a nearly useless endeavor. Under severe conditions, monster fires are capable of hurling large burning embers for miles. This is one of the features which makes them so difficult to fight and dangerous for fire fighters. Setbacks of 150 to 500 feet are, therefore, irrelevant.

Response 2: We must protect the environment. Today’s fires are devastating millions of acres of habitat for hundreds of species, many endangered, and killing animals themselves that inevitably are trapped in the searing flames.

Environmentalists: The Bush plan to thin forests will cost billions of dollars over 10 years.

Response 1: We are now spending nearly $2 billion per year fighting fires and that doesn’t even take into consideration the value of homes destroyed and the tragedy of lost lives.

Response 2: Any capitalist worthy of the name could make management of a valuable, renewable asset profitable. Large, small and medium-size trees, as well as brush, will have to be thinned to return our forests to good health. This is the only way we will have trees growing to be “old growth” in the future. As it is, many old growth forests are being lost in infernos so hot the forests won’t grow back for centuries because the earth has been sterilized.

Environmentalists: The President’s plan lets timber companies decide where and what to cut.

Response: It will not. The Forest Service will still write the contracts and set the rules. Forester managers can even go so far as to mark which trees to cut and which not to cut, if they so choose.

Environmentalists: The President uses the “thinning” definition of the timber industry, not the definition of scientists.

Response: Actually, the reverse is true. Environmentalists would not permit the degree of thinning required to return our forests to health. Foresters have 400 years of experience to rely on in designing forestry plans specifically for individual forests.

Environmentalists: The President’s plan would simply take too long.

Response: Actually, by working with private industry, as the President suggested, things could move along quite quickly. The only thing that would take time is rebuilding a timber industry that has been drastically reduced by a two-decade, 90 percent cut in U.S. logging caused by environmental activists. Restoring forests incinerated by super-hot fires will take centuries.

Some environmentalists have said that some logging could be permitted only if there is no profit in it. This raises the question as to whether they want to protect the environment or simply control the means of production.

You can get more facts on our nation’s forests from our Forest Policy Information Center at

Of particular interest will be National Policy Analysis #424, Tree-Huggers Or Fire-Huggers?: The Environmental Movement’s Confused Forest Policy by Tom Bonnicksen, Ph.D., which can be found at

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.