July 20, 2006

Salazar: Colorado "Katrina Of The West"

Not quite, Mr. Senator:
Washington - Sen. Ken Salazar complained Wednesday that lack of money has stymied most of the projects to treat bark beetle-damaged forests in Colorado to reduce wildfire risk.

"I look at Colorado as the Katrina of the West," Salazar said. "We are simply not doing enough."

Salazar's criticism came as senators from Western states scolded Bush administration officials for what they said was the slow pace of efforts to decrease the risk of catastrophic fires.

So far this year, 4.5 million acres have burned in the West. By this time last year, a little more than 3 million acres had burned.
A lack of federal funds for forest clearing is lamentable, but certainly does not compare to the tragic, natural and man-made disaster that was Hurricane Katrina. Roughly a thousand dead? Nope. Hundreds of thousands homeless? No. Government mismanagement or lack of planning--maybe, but clearing the entire western United States of undergrowth and other fire accelerants would be a daunting and nearly impossible task. Fire is natural, and fires in forests nature's way of providing clearing dead and dying trees, fertilizing the soil, and making way for new growth. That a few houses and outbuildings burn each year is sad for the owners (though personal responsibility dictates that they knew the risk), but for the most part, these fires burn millions of acres of empty land. That over 7.5 million acres have burned in the last two years alone, plus the fact that there are still plenty of trees out there indicates that, 1) the fires have little overall devastating effects similar to a Hurricane Katrina, 2) that plenty of forest remains, 3) that this is part of the natural cycle.

Anyone not familiar with the devastating effects of forest mismanagement over the last century--preventing rather than allowing fires--can only examine the accelerated growth of forests, and thus, fuel for fires, by looking at pictures like those taken by John Fielder just a few years ago and comparing them to the original photos shot by William Henry Jackson in 1870.

So, a note to Salazar. Fires aren't all bad, and it is precisely forest mismanagement that got us to this point in the first place. So don't gripe about not enough money, and certainly, don't insult those in Louisiana, Mississippi, or Alabama by comparing wildfires to a Hurricane. The Hayman fire in 2002 was a nuisance, but didn't require FEMA intervention, garner incessant national media coverage, result in hundreds of casualties or destroy a town. Find a better analogy.

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