Extreme environmentalism frustrates some AZ fire victims

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Environmentalism frustrates fire victims

Arizona residents say rules prohibit proper 'stewardship' of forests

June 27, 2002

By Jon Dougherty, WorldNetDaily.com

Residents whose property has been burned or is being threatened by wildfires currently out of control in Arizona are becoming increasingly frustrated with what they view as extreme environmental woodlands policies that they say have directly contributed to the destruction of more than 375,000 acres.

"There's a lot of resentment from folks about the environmental community and some of the challenges we've had in the past," said Lewis Tenney, a longtime area rancher and former forest firefighter. Tenney is also a Republican candidate running for an open seat in the U.S. House that was created by redistricting last year.

Tenney said before the fires, "there were trees that were scheduled to be cut years ago," but because of legal "appeals and lawsuits, they were never harvested." He said those trees "are all black now," having been destroyed by flames over the past several days.

"The woods are resilient when they're healthy," said Tenney, who has a 20-year history in forest health and with the state's fire safety commission. "One of the great travesties over the past couple of years is that we've not used some of the brightest minds in the state at the school of forestry … to use their science. They have the knowledge, but because of political pressures from extreme environmentalists we haven't really managed the forests like we could have."

Most all of the towns that have been destroyed thus far were at one time logging communities, Tenney said, but the industry has been crippled and nearly bankrupted locally by environmental efforts to prohibit logging or keep the industry tied up in court.

Residents "have been in the fight to cut trees for years," Tenney said, "and that's all been taken away from them."

Worse, he said many former loggers have since turned to other lines of work to earn a living. Now, those jobs have been destroyed along with the towns by what is being called the largest wildfire in Arizona history.

Other locals say "radical environmentalism" has ruined their opportunity to be good stewards of the forests.

"If it hadn't been for these policies keeping us out of the forests, we'd have been allowed to 'clean' them and rid them of underbrush and dead trees" over the years, said Karen LaDuke, a Snowflake, Ariz., resident whose home is in the path of the fire threatening Show Low.

LaDuke, who works for a three-generation logging firm, told WorldNetDaily she and other local residents make their living from the forests and know how to take care of them.

But, she said, "that information never gets out. All you hear [from environmentalists] is, 'All they want to do is ravage the forests.'"

Her point was seconded by Montana Republican Gov. Judy Martz, newly appointed head of the Western Governors Association, on Tuesday.

After meeting with fellow governors in Phoenix, she voiced empathy for those who have lost property and businesses to wildfires in Colorado and Arizona, and pledged to make protecting private property from fires in the future her priority.

"Regardless of our political and philosophical differences, it's imperative that we all join together to act responsibly in preserving forest health, to protect families, wildlife, fisheries, our ecosystem and our economies," she said.

"The environment needs to be taken care of," she said. But, Martz added, "when I see people running from their homes going to a shelter and now being there, some of them, over a week, I call this environmental terrorism. …"

She went on to say she didn't believe environmentalists themselves were "terrorists."

Arizona Gov. Jane Hull agreed.

"The policies that are coming from the East Coast, that are coming from the environmentalists, that say we don't need to log, we don't need to thin our forests are absolutely ridiculous," she said. "Nobody on the East Coast knows how to manage these fires, and I for one have had it."

Larry Humphrey, a Bureau of Land Management official who greeted and briefed President Bush during his Springerville, Ariz., visit Tuesday, told the president crews weren't making much progress because of undergrowth.

"With the fuel built up and the dryness of the conditions, there's not a heck of a lot we can do," said Humphrey.

Jimmy Jayne, a resident of Pine Dale, said fire displaced his family last week. He said most residents were not critical of the U.S. Forest Service and the personnel "on the ground" who were "doing their best" to battle the flames.

But in some instances, he said, firefighting efforts were hampered by Forest Service incident management teams who would not allow local fire departments to utilize their manpower, training and equipment to battle the fires.

"That's been frustrating to many residents" who in turn had to watch their homes being destroyed, he said.

Environmental groups counter that many of the problems that have led to such destruction date back a century or more.

"It's predictable but also irresponsible to lay the blame of a legacy of 100 years of fire suppression and logging and overgrazing at the feet of the environmental community," John Horning, conservation director for the Santa Fe, N.M.-based Forest Guardians told the Albuquerque Journal newspaper.

He said that while many Americans no longer build homes in flood plain areas or areas prone to hurricane destruction, Westerners should consider not building homes in forests.

"There are some places where people just shouldn't be building homes," he said.

The San Francisco-based Sierra Club, perhaps the nation's most prominent environmental group, also denied that environmentalism was to blame.

"Some public officials have tried to blame environmentalists for the forest fires" burning in Arizona and Colorado, the group said in a statement. "These attempts to scapegoat environmentalists are a disturbing display of cynical politics."

"Scientists have determined these fire problems stem from three problems: nearly a century of fire suppression that removed the natural role fire plays in healthy forests, an extreme multi-year drought and decades of commercial logging that removed large, fire-resistant trees," said the group.

In terms of fire suppression, others say a major problem is that much of the land currently on fire is owned by the federal government. Hence, federal regulations guide firefighting – even if fires on federal land are threatening private property or property owned by a political subdivision, like a city.

Rose Davis, a spokeswoman for the Fire Service's National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, told WorldNetDaily that most of the land surrounding Show Low was owned or managed by the federal government, though she didn't have an exact figure.

As to whether local fire crews would ever be ordered away from a scene, Davis said federal fire scene officials "may do that if the situation warranted."

"It would depend on fire behavior," she said. "If local federal fire commanders get a call saying, 'The fire's moving your way – get out of there,' then they might discourage others from remaining there."

Liability issues "are a big part of that," Davis said. "We get a lot of calls from people asking if they can help, but because they're not covered [by any regulations or insurance], we simply tell them, 'Thanks, but no.'"

She said local fire departments aren't always used, either, because "there is such a discipline involved in managing fire crews."

"They have to be very thoroughly trained in order for us to keep them safe," she said. "Safety is probably the biggest issue, then liability after that."

Asked if local departments would be able to remain in a fire area to protect their own community, Davis said federal officials would permit that.

"We're not going to make them leave," she told WorldNetDaily.

According to the National Wilderness Institute, as much as two-thirds of the land in Western states is owned by some government agency – most by those located in Washington.

And in Arizona specifically, Jayne said, "87 percent of the land is publicly owned."


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Jon E. Dougherty is a staff reporter and columnist for WorldNetDaily, and author of the special report, "Election 2000: How the Military Vote Was Suppressed."
 


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