Today, I’m trying an expermeint--live blogging from a distance.
From my office computer, I’m going to blog this morning’s hearing in Washington, D.C. on wildfire management, run by the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. Although it was scheduled long before the recent Yarnell Hill Fire tragedy that killed 19 firefighters on June 30 in central Arizona, the horror and sorrow sparked by that event will almost certainly resonate during the session.
Over my three decades as an environmental reporter, forest management has proven to be one of the more intractable and divisive issues on our wildlands. For years if not decades, the discussion has basically been polarized between those who favor allowing commercial logging of forests, including some larger, old-growth trees, as a way to reduce the fuel buildup in the forests and therefore the fire risks, and those who favor more selective thinning of smaller trees and leaving big trees alone. Climate change, another polarizing issue, has also become a part of the forest debate, with researchers increasingly linking the region’s destructive wildfires to warmer, drier weather, some of it possibly or definitely attributable to human-caused climate change, these researchers say. The proliferation of homes into private lands close to national forests is also a big wildfire issue, although that seems out of the feds’ control since building and land use are local and state issues, not ones normally attended to by Congress.
In any case, it will be interesting to see if this hearing and the tragedy leads to any form of bipartisanship or other forms of collaboration to break the congressional gridlock that has kept this issue largely unresolved. The federal government has thinned some national forests in Arizona and elsewhere, but that money has been scaled back in recent years due to budget cuts, with far more money spent for fighting fires than on trying to prevent them. The Obama Administration has proposed to cut spending on fuel thinning by about 40 percent for fiscal year 2013-14 compared to FY 2012-13. A Democratic senator, Ron Wyden of Oregon, has said he’ll fight to head off these cuts.
Today’s hearing will consist of two panels. The first panel has three Republican congressmen, including Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, who represents the Yarnell area, and Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, whose district covers a lot of national forest ground, stretching from Northern to Southern Arizona. The second panel is much larger, consisting of top Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management officials, a lumber company vice president, a non-profit forest restoration expert, a Colorado deputy state forester and the deputy director of the Yakima Indian Nation’s Department of Natural Resources.
Already, the subcommittee’s ranking Democrat and former chairman, Raul Grijalva of Tucson, has sent this blog a statement, saying he had unsuccessfully sought a delay of today’s hearing, adding, “I do not want the lost lives of these brave men to become part of a tired and predictable debate regarding the role of logging in wildland fire prevention.”
In a news release, the Intertribal Timber Council, a national group, said that its chairman, Phil Rigdon, who is also the aforementioned Yakima official, will testify about improvements in tribal land management practices that have made tribal practices more effective than those run by the Forest Service on the same property.
“Rigdon’s testimony will build on the recent findings of the Congressionally-mandated Indian Forest Management Assessment team report which found tribes using traditional values to chart a new and bold course in forest management through innovation, creativity, and partnership building,” the release said. “Moreover, they are managing their forests to benefit generations to come, yet with far less funding than other federal land managers.”
On its website, the council describes itself as “a nonprofit nation-wide consortium of Indian Tribes, Alaska Native corporations, and individuals dedicated to improving the management of natural resources of importance to Native American communities. The ITC works cooperatively with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), private industry, and academia to explore issues and identify practical strategies and initiatives to promote social, economic and ecological values while protecting and utilizing forests, soil, water, and wildlife.