STATEMENT ON SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA FIRES, CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
October 28, 2003
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Oakland, CA—“As California’s most destructive wildfires in more than a decade continue to rage unchecked throughout southern California, we express our deep sympathy for the tens of thousands evacuated, the thousands who have lost their homes, and the families and friends of those who have tragically lost their lives trying to save their houses or flee approaching blazes.
Unfortunately, some politicians in Washington D.C. have already shamelessly attempted to capitalize on this ongoing tragedy for their own political gain, and to further their agenda of weakening environmental laws and rewarding corporate contributors. On October 24, congressman Richard Pombo, chairman of the House Resources Committee, issued a press release entitled “Wake Up and Smell the Smoke,” implying that the Bush administration’s “Healthy Forests Initiative,” currently being considered by the Senate, could have prevented this devastating loss of life and property.
In fact, this tragedy clearly illustrates the misguided priorities of the Bush administration’s forest plan. The Bush plan would focus fuel hazard reduction work in forests containing large trees far from human communities, instead of within the ‘wildland-urban’ interface area. By focusing solely on forested areas containing old-growth trees sought after by the timber industry, the Bush plan does nothing to protect the tens of millions of southern California residents living adjacent to fire-prone shrublands. As stated in today’s Los Angeles Times, “the fires did their worst damage, in terms of property loss, along the ragged fringe of mountain slopes where suburbia meets the wilderness — a classic Southern California landscape that has long lured people to build homes in forest and brushland despite the likelihood that they eventually will be threatened by fire.”
Additionally, the Bush forest plan and legislation currently before Congress fails to provide desperately needed funding for fuel hazard reduction work within state and privately owned lands, despite the fact that the vast majority of fires and property loss occurs within these areas. Research consistently shows that creating ‘defensible space’ around one’s own property, through the clearing of brush and trees, installation of non-flammable roofs and other measures, is the best way to save homes and businesses.
The Senate is poised to take a vote tomorrow (Wed. Oct 29) on a so called "compromise deal" on the Bush Administration's Healthy Forest Initiative. The deal was engineered by California Senator Diane Feinstein, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, several Republican Senators, and former timber industry lobbyist, Under Secretary of Agriculture Mark Rey. While the Senators claim their deal is an improvement on a bill passed by the House earlier this year, it in fact still contains unnecessary restrictions on judicial review and citizen's ability to participate in decision affecting public lands.
Although Feinstein and Wyden claims their bill will protect old-growth forests, the bill language contains numerous exemptions broad enough to make the protections meaningless. Like the House bill, the Senate "compromise" fails to provide important funding for fuels reduction work on state and private land (where nearly all of the southern California fires have burned) and does not ensure that treatments will prioritized in the wildland-urban interface. Finally, even if the Senate bill passes, the Bush Administration and its allies in the House are likely to insist on a much worse, anti-environmental bill in conference committee.
The tragedy in southern California proves once again that community
protection must come first as our nation's wildfire policy. Unfortunately,
the bill now before the Senate