Wildfire: Politics Lag Behind Science

Article from Oregon Public Broadcasting: “When It Comes To Wildfire, Politics Lag Behind Science.”

The public doesn’t want smoke, period, and is leery of fire in the woods.

“Political barriers might explain why some forest restoration projects complete the thinning but not the burning part of the plan. “

Note the “About This Story” section at the bottom of the page.

Why Does This Story Matter?

Politicians have the power to influence how the West manages wildfire by directing tax dollars toward suppression and forest restoration. This story focuses on where politicians stand relative to the science that says forest managers should be letting more wildfires burn and using more prescribed fire to reduce the likelihood of catastrophic wildfires in the future.

7 thoughts on “Wildfire: Politics Lag Behind Science”

  1. I like that whole section of the story – “about this story”. Two things struck me. .. one issue that seems to be nonpartisan (!!!) but still difficult to deal with.

    “U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington is the top Democrat on the Senate Natural Resources Committee, and she’s introduced legislation that includes a bigger role for prescribed fire. However, she was quick to raise concerns about the practice as well.

    “To me, one of the key issues in thinking about prescribed burn is that in hotter, drier conditions you have to be very careful,” Cantwell said. “There probably are some examples where people thought they could do prescribed burn … and what they found is it got out of hand really quickly because of those weather conditions.”

    Some key members of Congress would simply like to avoid the subject. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has been one of the most visible legislators on wildfire issues. He’s urged the Forest Service to beef up its fleet of aerial tankers, and he worked hard to revamp the agency’s budget to provide more money for fire prevention.”

    (1) But not mentioned are the folks who don’t want to see trees thinned. As we discussed last year “Why We Disagree About Fuel Treatments”, I’m still not sure whether those folks don’t want them thinned at all, or just thinned and sold.

    If I were Governor, I’d start a “Living with Fire” Commission to point out the issues and work on them in a comprehensive way. Maybe strike a deal with some enviro groups about project design. The State of Colorado did something like this with Colorado Roadless, started with a bipartisan commission, held listening sessions around the State, and so on. Of course, some groups can still litigate but I think at the state level groups are more reasonable (talking about specific conditions) and less ideological.

    (2) To say that the opinions of people legitimately worried about their communities burning down are “politics” (as opposed to “science”) is one of the sillier framings/headlines I’ve seen. If we want to do this thing, because it makes sense, we need to figure out how to get support from people who are against it (not liking thinning, or not liking PB). One is not “science” and the other “politics.”

  2. I think the headline was referring to the actions of politicians rather than the opinions of the public. But I agree that if we could get the public to lead (in a unified way), the politicians would follow.

      • “Politicians usually believe whatever their constituents believe, even if those beliefs are not based in reality. That includes both sides of the aisle, and, especially, regarding our public forests.”

        And both sides of the aisle literally hate hearing this, since they both spend so much time fingerpointing at the other side as not being in touch with reality and NOY having the so-called settled science.


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