The Beetle Burn

Green Policies Increase Risk of Colorado Forest Fires, experts say


Environmentalist policies against logging may have helped this summer’s Rocky Mountain fires to expand, experts told the Washington Free Beacon.

Steve Segin of the Rocky Mountain fire-incident team told the Denver Post, “we haven’t had a fire season this bad since… 2002.” According to the Incident Information System, 170,365 acres have burned this summer in Colorado alone.

Both President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney visited victims of the Waldo Canyon Fire, which became the most destructive fire in Colorado’s history.

Robert Zubrin, a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy and President of the aerospace engineering research and development firm Pioneer Astronautics, blamed environmentalists for the spread of these fires.

“They facilitated the spread of fire by keeping people from logging, adding firebreaks, and using pesticides,” he said.

Zubrin wrote a book on this subject, Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism, which he will present today at the American Enterprise Institute.

Zubrin recently wrote that climate change does not explain these fires. “The culprits here … have not been humans, but Western Pine Beetles,” he wrote, which turned “over 60 million acres of formerly evergreen pine forests into dead red tinder, dry ammunition” for fires.

Zubrin told the Free Beacon that logging would solve the problem.

“Logging as part of a program of rational forest management” could decrease the risk of fire by “thinning out mature trees that are the pine beetles’ major targets,” and creating “gaps between forests, to act as firebreaks and beetle-breaks,” he said.

If “you turn that wood into furniture, it doesn’t turn into CO2,” Zubrin said. Green activists “don’t care if a billion tons of wood turns into CO2,” so long as people are not responsible.

However, Joshua Ruschhaupt, director of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club, told the Free Beacon that logging is not the answer.

“The beetles are doing the job foresters would like to do, taking out the least healthy trees,” he said.

Ruschhaupt noted that birds feed on the beetles, and that dead trees provide a habitat for insects.

“Snag-forest habitats are among the most biologically diverse,” he said. “They’re critically important.”

Ruschhaupt called irresponsible logging “a domino effect of ecological damage.” Logging opens a forest “so there’s more air flow, which helps a fire.” When you log, “you’re clearing out habitats, you’re increasing the amount of sun hitting the forest floor,” making it “less of a filtering system.” That could actually increase fire risk.

However, Joe Ceurvorst, Fire Chief and Wildland Coordinator of Coal Creek Canyon Fire Protection District, disagreed.

“The density of vegetation does impact fire behavior,” he said. “We call it fuel loading.”

While wind and topography also affect fires, the pine beetle infestation “definitely creates more fuel for the fires,” Ceurvorst said.

Anthony Moore, Owner of the Independent Log Company, agreed.

“The fires have spread further because of beetle kill,” he said.

A 25-year veteran logger, Moore once worked in the Durango area. “Places that I logged twelve years ago, the Aspen trees are back. … Where I didn’t log, it’s fallen down, and you can’t even walk through there.”

Beetles cross over any break, but fires do not, Moore said.

“We do a firebreak on all jobs,” he said. As part of his logging, Moore even clears out landing zones for helicopters and action zones for firefighters.

“We care for the forest just as much as the environmentalists,” he said. “I was born and raised on the mountains. They are my kids’ future and the public likes to see them.”

Patrick Donovan, receiver for Intermountain Resources, LLC, said of a beetle-killed tree: “It died, it stays in the forest—it’s fuel.”

“With 4 million acres of dead timber in Colorado, we should get rid of it, get rid of the fuel,” Donovan said. “If you removed none of that timber, the fire would still spread.”

Environmentalist Ruschhaupt argued that logging should be restricted to the Wildland-Urban Interface.

But Donovan said fires far away from development can still damage communities. The forests may not be “in the WUI, but if there’s a fire in the headwaters of the Colorado [River] in Rocky Mountain National Forest, it pollutes both air and water.”

“The costs of removing the timber are much less than the cost to fight the fire,” he said.

The second largest and second most destructive fire in Colorado’s history, the High Park Fire, blazed through beetle-killed trees. It spread over 87,284 acres, destroyed at least 259 homes, and caused $39.2-million worth of damage. While contained on July 1, it continues to smolder.

The U.S. Forest Service declined comment.

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