Should the Western Governors Take the Lead in “Living With Wildfires”?

I spoke with a knowledgeable Legislative Affairs fellow who shed further light on the Daines-Feinstein bill. To paraphrase him, it is nibbling around the edges, and the size of the issue requires a major ramping up of funding but that would involve.. appropriators. Similarly, Susan Jane Brown asked in her comment here “why don’t we all work to get the Forest Service the resources they need?” And of course that would be a solution.

Let’s just vision here.. we’re looking at an integrated effort (call it Living with Fire or whatever) across states, feds, counties, a push to harden homes, get better at evacuating, and strategically reducing fuels. We already have many people in communities working on the problem. We have State air quality folks involved. We have researchers who’ve analyzed the barriers. There are Prescribed Fire Councils. Insurance companies. County planners. And so on.. heck we don’t even know how much we are already spending working on this, and what all the different groups are doing. It would have to be an effort that is coordinated and comprehensive, and would require a great deal of funding over a long period of time. But perhaps we already tried that..

Vision: To safely and effectively extinguish fire when needed; use fire where allowable; manage our natural resources; and as a nation, to live with wildland fire.

The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy is a strategic push to work collaboratively among all stakeholders and across all landscapes, using best science, to make meaningful progress towards the three goals: Resilient Landscapes Fire Adapted Communities Safe and Effective Wildfire Response.

Perhaps the Cohesive Strategy wasn’t wide enough in the diversity of groups represented, or didn’t have the right kind of political clout to make things happen? Maybe the next Administration could set up some kind of bipartisan working group to review and improve/initiate a new strategy and budget requests. I am thinking of the Western Governors as leaders based on this Patty Limerick essay Where Bipartisanship Finds a Refuge: A Rendezvous with The Western Governors Association . Here’s the Lunch with Limerick recording with Patty interviewing Jim Ogsbury. For me it was a fun policy-geeky lunch.

“At WGA, ‘consensus bipartisan policy’ has not had a restful time of it. The Western Governors do not evade or avoid the hard issues that would fracture any conventional organization. Wildfire, water supply and drought, the divisions between the rural West and the urban West, the allocation of authority between the federal government and the states, and the reform of the Endangered Species Act: these are all issues that, in other venues of discussion, produce a high pitch of partisan noise. But when the Governors deal with these issues, they do not storm out of the room enraged with each other; instead, they stay in the room and figure out responses to these challenges that they can agree on. And then during breaks and during meals, they circulate and mingle and laugh at each other’s jokes (though, as with any human population, the jokes do vary a little in quality), and you cannot tell Democrats from Republicans.

“That insightful Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said that the states are ‘the laboratories of democracy.’ So if you pay attention to the work of the WGA, you will see that Justice Brandeis got that right, and a good share of the experiments conducted in these laboratories have been maintaining democracy’s heartbeat.”

Conceivably, the bipartisan recommendations of the Western Governors could give those in Congress some political cover. Nevertheless, the problem IMHO with being US Congress-budget centric for problem resolution is that it tends to get bogged down in partisanship, and then disempowers the rest of us. And if we look at the FS and BLM recreation budgets.. asking for more money from the federal budget doesn’t necessarily work as a strategy.

It would be interesting to see what a diverse bipartisan group (with the requisite political clout) might come up with.

2 thoughts on “Should the Western Governors Take the Lead in “Living With Wildfires”?”

  1. Getting the Forest Service the “resources it needs” might indirectly address one of the most polarizing aspects of the problem – the idea that national forest vegetation projects have to log bigger trees to provide revenue to make treatments viable and fund other restoration actions.

    One observation of WGA based on my experience is that a lot of the “discussion” is at a technical problem-solving level with staff professionals, rather than the politicians themselves. Actually relying on facts and experts can depoliticize things.

    • I continue to think the “big tree” thing is a Region 1, 5 and 6 thing. Which is important because media outlets and universities tend to be coastal. But here in Colorado, not so much.

      Yes, I agree and it is the folks working on the ground doing stuff that are involved, not so much professional pontificators.


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