This piece by Denver Post Editorial Page Editor Dan Haley captures the anger I feel every time I drive through Colorado's beetle-ravaged forests. Instead of defaulting to the cop-out position, that it's all the fault of climate change, Haley lays the blame where it belongs -- with unsound policy, paralyzed federal land managers and tree-hugging extremists:
"Katrina was a natural disaster followed by gross incompetence. This was gross incompetence that allowed for a natural disaster.
Pine beetles are native and a natural part of the eco-system, and forests need them, and fire, to regenerate. But decades of neglect — of short-sighted politicians foolishly choosing to put out fires later than pay now to create a healthier forest, and of knee-jerk environmentalists opposing every logging proposal — have finally taken root. Our forests may have looked thick and lush, but they were overcrowded and unhealthy.
We began ruining them more than a century ago when we started putting out fires that would otherwise cleanse forests of downed trees, underbrush and dry pine needles. And when well-intentioned yet overzealous tree-huggers made logging a sin a few decades ago, problems only mounted."
I began writing about the forest health crisis in the late 1990s, while at The Washington Times (which I picked up on from an unlikely source: Government Accountability Office reports), but it had been a recognized problem for at least a decade before that, dating back to the Yellowstone infernos of the late 1980s. The great Alston Chase sounded the alarm with his prescient book, "Playing God in Yellowstone," but the alarm went un-heeded.
It became much more obvious in 2002, when the Hayman and other wildfires ignited public awareness. It was widely acknowledged at that point -- before climate change became the default excuse for everything, and a convenient way for federal eco-crats and politicians to evade responsibility -- that there was a significant man-made component to the crisis. Here is a piece I wrote on the subject that year.
But by then, getting ahead of the problem was itself a problem, given the neglect this issue had received at most levels of government. Paralysis and defeatism were plaguing federal land agencies, which largely had lost the ability to actively manage forests, due to a constant barrage of lawsuits and a "public process" that worked to the advantage of professional activists.
Greens prefer non-management to traditional multiple-use management, because the latter translates into timber-cutting, mining, drilling, etc., and reeks to them of the evil profit motive. Quiet and reverent communing with nature is the only legitimate use for public land in their eyes. Cutting out the cancer, when it was still a manageable problem, was opposed, because it opened the door to "logging." That selective "logging" could have actually helped restore forest health was heresy. Better to see the forests die and burn than to give an inch on dogma.
Politicians (like Mark Udall, Ken Salazar and others) slept through most of this history, and only recently awoke from their slumbers, offering responses that are mostly too little, too late. They also share responsibility for this scandalous -- and it is a scandal, arguably criminal is nature, given the vast destruction of public assets involved -- chain of events. Public anger over the Gulf Coast oil spill is understandable, but where's that same righteous indignation, and where are the presidential promises of a little ass-kicking, over a forest health disaster that has been incrementally destroying Western landscapes for more than 20 years, without an adequate federal response?