Three Bills Aim At Preventing Wildfires

July 20, 2012

Andy Magee
The Whitewater-Baldy Fire is the largest wildfire in New Mexico state history. Photo by Andy Magee.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- At last check there were 21 fires burning in the western United States, charring more than 360,000 acres. A House committee Friday debated three bills responding to the growing crisis of bark beetles, drought and wildfires.

Arizona Republican Congressman Paul Gosar has introduced a bill that would as he says “cut the bureaucratic red tape” and streamline forest thinning projects.

"It is clear that the process of planning, studying, consulting, litigating, appealing and collaborating are failing us in our forests," Gosar said. "Our ecosystems are suffocating; where we once had 10-25 trees per acre now we have hundreds."

One federal land manager said the bill does not allow for enough environmental analysis and public comment.

Scientist Joseph Romm said lawmakers need to address the bigger issue -- climate change. Romm is a climate expert for the Center for American Progress, an independent Washington-based think tank.

"Ignoring carbon pollution and focusing solely on fuels treatment to address the epidemic of bark beetles, the epidemic of drought, the epidemic of wildfires is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, or more precisely it’s like burning some of the deck chairs and removing some of the umbrellas on the Titanic -- same outcome more time wasted," Romm said.

But Romm said the leaders gathered are addressing the single most important question facing the nation: Can we prevent the extreme drought and wildfires ravaging the country today from becoming the new normal?