Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Enviro Capitalists: PERChttp://www.perc.org/index.html, a think tank of environmentalists who care as much about free markets as they do about trees, has covered the forest fire issue for years, and their criticism of federal policies and environmental "watermelons," green on the outside, red in the middle, has been consistent. This piece by Holly Fretwell from last year is a good start. An important quote:
Indeed, the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Southwest Forest Alliance, and other environmental organizations all pay lip service to thinning small-diameter trees and to prescribed burns. So why don't we see more thinning and prescribed burning, particularly in the urban-wildland interface where life and property are at greatest risk?

The fact is that environmental organizations have opposed logging, including restorative thinning, for years. Their opposition has played a deadly role in helping the fuel buildup to reach dangerous levels. And many continue to oppose projects that would reduce fire risk. The Sierra Club and Forest Guardians, among others, have appealed an Arizona project that is desperately needed and supported by a consortium of federal, state, and local organizations known as the Greater Flagstaff Forests Partnership. Based in Flagstaff, Arizona, the partnership devised a thinning project that would cut only trees up to 16 inches in diameter, with 60 to 80 trees left per acre after thinning. But four years later this area surrounding Flagstaff remains a tinderbox.
Federal administration of economically viable lands is horribly inefficient and poorly structured. Land managers are given short term incentives that have more to do with protecting (and enlarging) their beauracracy than they do with improving forest quality, safety, and economic benefit. States, corporations, and individuals all do it better, as is illustrated in this report by the same author. They have long term incentives, and they get to keep the rewards they reap instead of sending the money back to Washington, hoping for a nice baseline budget increase. Fretwell's conclusion in the report:
Our federal land management system is clearly dysfunctional and harmful to the health of our national forests. Forest managers must respond to a multitude of demands that are contrary to their goal of healthy forest ecosystems: political interests, short-term bureaucratic goals, perverse incentives, and stultifying layers of regulations that reflect neither local nor regional differences.

Yet other timber lands exhibit healthy, vigorous forest ecosystems. Private land owners who grow trees for commercial harvest have a long-term commitment to the value of the timber and a strong incentive to manage for a productive forest. In recent years, the growing market in outdoor recreation has created additional incentives for private owners to manage their lands for wildlife, recreational opportunities, and other environmental amenities. Similarly, the managers of state trust lands have shown that with less political interference and clear mandates to generate revenues for public schools, public timberlands can be managed to benefit both forest health and the state residents.

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