| FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 29, 2003
CONTACT: Brian Segee, SW Public Lands Director (202) 408-7843
Experts Agree that Current Senate Wildfire Legislation Would Not Help Southern California, Other At-Risk Communities
The conservation community is united in expressing our deepest sympathies for lives lost and for families who have suffered immeasurable losses in Southern California.
The current situation in Southern California demonstrates, once again, that protecting communities must be the top priority for any wildfire policy. Simply put, protecting peoples’ lives, homes and communities must come first. Unfortunately, the Administration's Healthy Forest Initiative and the current Senate legislation fall short of this goal, by allowing for logging far in the back-country, without any guarantee that resources will be directed to the removal of small trees around homes.
“Congressional sponsors of the so-called Healthy Forests bill have reached an all-time low in their cynical use of the overwhelming and tragic loss of life and property in the southern California fires to promote their anti-environmental agenda” stated Brian Segee with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This bill will not prevent these situations anymore than it will stop the West’s drought or California’s Santa Ana winds. As long as Congress refuses to put its money where its mouth is, homes will continue to burn and lives will continue to be lost”
Both the President's bill and current Senate legislation would not improve the situation currently unfolding in southern California because the fires are burning predominantly on non-federal land -- areas that are not addressed in the current legislation. Additionally, most of the acreage burned in the fires has been chaparral and other shrubland, habitat containing no commercially valuable products. Without vastly increased funding for prescribed burns and brush reduction, such efforts will never occur on the scale necessary to protect areas like southern Calfornia.
Experts agree that focusing on the area immediately around homes should be the first priority of any wildfire legislation, and the situation so many are facing in California today reinforces this need. For example, according to Dr Richard A Minnich, Professor of Earth Science at the University of California at Riverside, an expert on the fire ecology of Mediterranean ecosystems in Southern California,
"The Bush Administration's Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HR 1904) for forest thinning in the western United States is scheduled for a vote at a time when southern California is undergoing a massive fire disaster. Yet this bill will give little benefit for fire and fuel hazard management in the southern California region . . .The bill is earmarked for federal lands exclusively. Hence no help will be mandated to towns and communities with forest densification. Since the bill is earmarked for federal lands only, it will provide no benefit toward fuel management of chaparral and other brushlands that cover extensive areas of southern California."
The situation in Southern California is similar to the wildfires near Summerhaven, Arizona, where President Bush visited this summer. In both cases, wildfires destroyed homes and threatened communities. And in both cases, the Bush bill and the current Senate proposal would have done nothing to prevent those tragedies." As the current situation in California proves, concentrating efforts and funding in the community protection zone must be the top priority of any wildfire legislation.
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