It happens every summer, and this year is no different; thousands of wildfires ravage millions of acres in the arid Western states, destroying homes and huge swaths of forest and wildlife habitat — and taking lives. With the fire season far from over, federal firefighting efforts already topped $1 billion by August 21, and the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies are running out of money. Forty-nine “uncontained large fires” are raging across the Western states and an additional 222 new “moderate” fires are in various stages of either growing or being brought under control, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Forest Service’s Active Fire Mapping website for August 23, 2013.
5,469 Square Miles Incinerated … So Far
Robin Broyles of the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), located in Boise, Idaho, told The New American that, as of August 23, a total of 32,732 wildfires have burned some 3.5 million acres so far this year. That translates into 5,469 square miles of woodland and grassland that have been incinerated, an area about the size of the entire state of Connecticut (5,543 sq. mi.). According to the NIFC, over the past ten years the average area burned annually is 5.6 million acres. Whether or not the 2013 fire season ends up above or below that average will depend a lot on the weather over the next month or so. Either way, this year’s fire season has been especially deadly, with 19 members of an elite Hotshot firefighter crew dying in July in the Yarnell Hill wildfire in Arizona.
In northern California, the fast-burning Rim Fire, now covering 165 square miles, has spread into Yosemite National Park and threatens some of America’s most iconic landscapes. Meanwhile the huge Beaver Creek Fire is reducing some of Idaho’s most scenic wild lands in the Sun Valley area to ashes. The Beaver Creek blaze had already burned 111,163 acres by August 23, according to NIFC’s Broyles, while the still-burning Elk Complex Fire, also in Idaho, has already consumed 131,258 acres.
Wildfires occur naturally and have always been a part of the seasonal cycle in the West, but the size and intensity of the fires have dramatically increased in recent years due, in large measure, to the gross mismanagement of the national forests by the U.S. Forest Service and the incessant lawsuits of radical environmentalists that have thwarted all reasonable attempts at proper forest management.
As The New American has reported many times over the past three decades, the unconscionable destruction of our vast forests, watersheds, and wildlife habitat is the inevitable result of policies and practices imposed by federal politicians and bureaucrats, in tandem with the obstructionist programs of extreme environmental activists.
On July 10, 1999, this writer attended and reported on a congressional hearing of the House Resource Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health chaired by the late Representative Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho). The hearing was held in the logging town of John Day, Oregon, in the heart of the Malheur National Forest, which had been effectively shut down and closed to logging by the U.S. Forest Service. Hundreds of millions of board feet of dead and dying timber and huge sections of blow-down timber were being left to rot and create massive bug infestations and fire hazards, while the local mills were starving for logs and Americans were being forced to import lumber and wood products from Canada.
Rep. Chenoweth fought heroically to reverse the many destructive federal policies that are destroying the health of our national forests, but with little success against the huge, well-funded Green Lobby that would rather see the forests burn down than have human beings obtain any benefit from them.
In our 1999 article on the Chenoweth hearing in Oregon, I wrote: “The federal eco-saviors … have created ecological disasters of near-apocalyptic proportions. Tens of millions of acres of once-beautiful forestland have been transformed into charred moonscapes and dying, bug infested, overgrown tinderboxes set to explode into blazing infernos.”
Tragically, since those words were written, the Fedgov-induced infernos have incinerated tens of millions acres more of what were once beautiful and productive forestland. The greater tragedy is that this massive destructive loss needn’t have happened — and need not continue to occur year after year.
In the 1999 article mentioned above, I cited a number of experts and studies that predicted that we would see a continuing escalation of incidence of unnatural supernova fires, unless we began to address the enormous buildup of brush and dead/dying timber that is choking our forests. We pointed to a detailed 1999 report issued by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) entitled Catastrophic Wildfire Threats, that said “39 million acres on national forests in the interior West are at high risk of catastrophic wildfire” due to unnatural and excessive tree density, massive buildup of undergrowth, disease and insect infestation.