Ensign says forest managers need flexibility even more than cash
Describing the Tahoe Basin where he grew up as “a waiting ecological disaster,” Sen. John Ensign on Monday said federal red tape is the biggest obstacle faced by the nation’s forest managers.
Ensign, R-Nev., stood at the base of Ash Canyon with representatives from the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, state Division of Forestry and Carson City Fire Department.
Huge areas of federal forest need to be cleaned out, they told the senator, so when there is a fire, it doesn’t become a catastrophic burn that sterilizes the soil and leaves a scar lasting years. They blamed decades of misguided management policies that have resulted in huge buildups of flammable materials in the forests.
As a result, said Toiyabe-Humboldt Forest Supervisor Bob Vaught, fires that occur are much bigger and more destructive than in the past.
“This year, paying for the suppression costs is killing us,” he said.
Nevada State Forester Steve Robinson said that federal fire management policies are the problem.
Carson City and the state can get projects organized and approved, he said. Private land owners can do their share, clearing away dangerous accumulations of underbrush and developing fire breaks.
“But then you get to the Forest Service land and you’re stymied,” he said.
“I think we all know what needs to be done,” said Kelly Martin of the Forest Service. “It’s just the process.”
Vaught said, however, that cooperation among agencies and with the public is better in Nevada than in many places.
“One advantage here in Nevada is we don’t have the same kind of environmental community in Nevada that they have, say, in Oregon,” he said.
According to Ensign, part of the resistance is from groups that fear allowing even some lumbering as part of the cleanup process will result in destruction of the forests.
That’s not going to happen, Ensign said. People must understand that past management practices have set the forests up for disaster.
Dramatic steps are necessary, he added, to clean up and restore the natural forests along the Sierra and in the Tahoe Basin before there is a catastrophic fire. And that may mean providing a way for business to make some money from lumber as they do the job of cleaning up the forests.
“People tried for 100 years and, hopefully, we’ve learned from our mistakes,” he said. “We want to have this beautiful land for years and years and years to come. That’s the goal.”
He said he, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. and other Western senators “who understand” must work to change those policies.
“It’s not just money,” he said. “The policies have to change.”