Brush control could have eased wildfire

Freedom New Mexico

It’s the same story every year in Southern California and throughout the dry Western states — wildfires consume thousands of acres of land, destroy homes and even take some lives.

Public officials blame an act of God, just as U.S. Forest Service Spokeswoman Dianne Cahir said, “When it gets into canyons that haven’t burned in numerous years, it takes off. If you have any insight into the good Lord upstairs, put in a request.”

That may be a clever quotation, but the good Lord upstairs does not set federal forestry policy.

Too often, homeowners are well prepared for fire — cutting dry weeds and other potential tinder — but those overseeing federally controlled lands are not. That’s just what a California radio station personality reported this week — that a city inspector had told him residents had done their part, but the inspector’s efforts to get the federal government to clean out the brush on open lands went unanswered.

The feds said they needed to do a study and an environmental impact report before taking action.

Some fire areas have underbrush that has been growing for 40-60 years. It’s the same story repeatedly on public lands — government agencies are burdened by bureaucratic procedures and lack the proper incentives to take care of government-owned land.

Just two months into its fiscal year, California has spent $106.5 million of its $182 million emergency firefighting fund, Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer told The Associated Press. The budget was increased this year from $69 million in 2008-09 to more accurately reflect annual firefighting costs, according to Palmer.

Some reimbursement may be forthcoming from the federal government, as well it should. California applied for six grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, AP reported, and if approved the state could be reimbursed for 75 percent of the costs to contain and put out the fires.

Often, environmental policy limits proper land maintenance. In recent years, environmental policies have emphasized leaving forests, canyons and woodlands in their natural state, which can then lead to enormous fires once they do, inevitably, break out.

Often, environmentalists blame property owners for living so close to nature, as if humanity is some type of scourge on the Earth. This is the result of public policy that has moved from sensible conservation to ideologically driven environmentalism.

There will always be an outer edge of any metropolitan area, where neighborhoods coexist more closely with nature. It’s absurd to blame the public and propose government restrictions on where people live. The market does a good job regulating such matters through, say, higher insurance premiums for homes built in dangerous areas.

It’s terrifying to watch the rapid spread of the fires near Los Angeles, consuming dozens of structures so far and well over 100,000 acres. We’re all thankful for the work of those battling them. Sometime soon, though, it would be best to seriously address the way government lands are managed to cut down on these horrific fires in the future.