Hell’s half-acre has topped... $93 Million and Growing

While families grieve over the loss of nineteen, young, robust “Hot Shot” firefighters, the Obama administration presses for a 41% cut in the fire suppression budget placing millions of acres of forestland in the path of deadly infernos. You have to wonder what the death toll will be at the end of this fire season.

Federal Agencies have gotten so accustomed to robbing Peter to pay Paul, there is little or no thought given to the financial shortages they create as they continuously juggle funds from one pocket to another. Instead of a logical approach to budgeting, they develop priorities based on environmental influence peddling and common sense be damned! More than two decades ago, the preservationists planted the seeds that “untouched forests are healthy forests” and “destructive, knuckle-dragging loggers” had better look for a new way to make a living; when the environmental word got out to the public those dirty-nature-rapists would be considered nastier than week old underwear! You all know the history and here we are today with forestlands in disrepair, primed for lightning strikes, careless campers or firebugs lying in wait. 

Fuel overload has been a critical issue for years and even though funding has been established for fire prevention, the fact remains debris, blow down, bug kill, dead and dying timber continues to compound each year. It would be just as logical to park fuel tanker in the woods, than to allow forest neglect to continue! The Feds swear wildfire intensification is draining the prevention budget when in fact, reduction of wildfire fighting budgets forces confiscation of those funds just to get through each fire season. This is yet another example of the administration’s double talk “…the 2014 budget will increase the overall spending for wildfire fighting…” while the other side of their mouth calls for a 48% cut of the Department of Interior budget for hazardous fuels reduction. 

Back in the day when timber was King, forest fires were fought with a vengeance pitting man against nature in a raw battle of wills. Today, there are more sophisticated techniques for combating forest fires using air tankers, fire retardant and bucket brigades of helicopters in an overhead attack, however complications created by encroaching neighborhoods blurring the boundaries between residential areas and wild lands, create new obstacles. People seeking a more “rural atmosphere and interaction with nature’s glory” raise the ante in fire combat as thousands place their lives on the line refusing to be evacuated yet expecting rescue and salvation in the eleventh hour! Without fail, those property owners who refuse to budge, stake their lives (and those of the rescue squads) on hope the inferno will suddenly change course, burn out or be cowed by a misty spray from a garden hose! According to a government report, 15 to 17 million new homes have been built in dangerous fire zones in the past twenty years. The Forest Service says it must clear 65 million acres just to “tamp down” the danger. In inflation-adjusted dollars there is less being spent on fire suppression today than in 2002. Eight of the nine worst fire seasons, measured in acres burned in the U.S., have occurred since 2000. Last year, 9.3 million acres burned, with 51 separate fires of more than 40,000 acres each. Colorado suffered its most destructive season in history as a blaze on the edge of Colorado Springs destroyed 347 homes. That record stood for less than a year when an early season wildfire just outside Colorado Springs devastated at least 502 homes and killed two people in 2013.

Should the current administration push its forest budget through Congress in 2014, the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife, BLM and BIA budgets would see 37% of the fuels reduction budget cut from $317 million to $201 million; overall the budgets would drop by 41% from $502 million to $297 million. Recognition of the danger this imposes seems nonexistent! In other words in a view from Obama’s perspective, the financial slashing would be akin to him reducing his “vacation budget” from five trips costing $502 million to two vacations and a weekend spree at $297 million.

We are up to our asses in alligators folks and no one can figure out how to drain the swamp!

by Sherrie Bond
(Sherrie Bond serves as Director of the Northwest Log Truckers’ Cooperative. She can be reached via email at BONDTRUCK@aol.com)