Congress, Trump Exploit Fire Tragedy to Promote Logging Agenda
By Chad Hanson
In the wake of the October 2017 fires in Northern California, which resulted in the loss of so many lives and homes, people affected by the tragedy are grieving and bewildered. Many people are searching for answers about what caused the fires, and a way forward to prevent similar loss of life and property.
It's frustrating, then, to watch Republican leaders in Congress and the Trump administration politicizing the recent tragedy as they push for a sweeping elimination of environmental laws on our national forests and other federal public lands to increase logging and backcountry fire suppression under the guise of community protection. On Nov. 1, the House voted 232-188 to allow for more "salvage logging" and other forms of tree-cutting on federal properties. According to the Associated Press, House Speaker Paul Ryan said the bill was needed to protect the nation's federal forests "from the kind of devastation that California experienced."
Wrong. Even a cursory examination of the science of forest ecology reveals that this plan would not only destroy vast acreages of public forests, but would also put communities at even greater risk.
The fires that occurred last month in California were in low-elevation foothill ecosystems dominated by oak woodlands and grasslands. The fires were far away from any national forests or other federal public lands. Eviscerating environmental laws on federal forestlands would do nothing whatsoever to help the affected communities now or in the future. Instead, what the tens of millions of Americans living in rural communities within fire-adapted ecosystems really need is for federal and state lawmakers to focus on directly protecting homes and lives from wildland fire.
The science is clear on how best to do this, and it involves a few basic steps. Most important, we need to help homeowners make their homes far more fire-safe. This includes measures such as using fire-resistant roofing and siding, installing rain gutter guards (to prevent flaming embers from landing in a dry bed of pine needles and leaves accumulating in rain gutters); using a fine-wire mesh on exterior vents to prevent embers from floating into interior spaces like attics; and replacing wood decks with fire-resistant composites. Homeowners also need assistance to create "defensible space" within 60 to 100 feet around their homes, which involves removing most small trees and shrubs, removing lower limbs on mature trees, and annually raking up and removing small twigs, needles and leaves from the ground. (Clearing vegetation away from larger distances from homes offers no added benefit for home protection, research shows.)
Further, we need to create an infrastructure to notify communities when wildland fires occur so that people and their animals can evacuate quickly. When these steps are properly implemented, the vast majority of homes can and do survive wildland fire, and lives are saved. Finally, we must focus wildland fire suppression and management activities around homes and communities, rather than in backcountry forests.
But the current leadership in Congress appears more interested in trying to find some kind of cover for allowing for increased logging. The recently passed bill—deceptively named the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017, and which was sponsored by one of the biggest recipients of logging-industry campaign contributions in Congress, Bruce Westerman, an Arkansas Republican—would divert more resources away from protecting communities in order to give a windfall to logging corporations.
If the Senate passes this bill and it becomes law, the legislation would eliminate most logging regulations in national forests, and severely curtail public participation in federal forest management decisions, allowing clearcuts thousands of acres in size. What's more, the bill would prohibit federal judges from issuing temporary restraining orders or preliminary injunctions against illegal logging projects on our public lands, which means giant logging projects would be completed before any judge could enforce existing laws.
Natural forest regeneration at four years post-fire in a large high-intensity fire patch, Stanislaus National Forest
Unfortunately, Senate passage could happen. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) has introduced S. 2068, the so-called Wildfire Prevention and Mitigation Act. Similar to HR 2936, this bill would exempt massive logging projects from environmental laws and public participation on our national forests, and would prevent federal judges from being able to enforce environmental laws. Barrasso issued a statement misleadingly claiming that this massive rollback of environmental protections was needed to "remove excess brush" from federal forests.
Environmental leaders in Congress, including Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) who is the Ranking Member on the House Natural Resources Committee, are calling HR 2936 a shameful "giveaway" to the logging industry. "The Americans across the West whose homes burned to the ground this year aren't interested in whether Congress can make timber companies a few extra bucks," Grijalva said.
These logging bills represent both an attack on our public lands and an assault on science. Both pieces of legislation are predicated on a political tale known as the "catastrophic wildfire" narrative, which is a classic example of the politics of fear. The basic premise of this narrative is that wildland fires are "destroying" our forests—and that more intensive and widespread logging will "save" them. But the notion that fire "destroys" forests has been refuted by hundreds of scientists and peer-reviewed scientific studies. The current science tells us, for instance, that even in the same forest types, the forests with the fewest environmental protections and the most logging burn more intensely, not less.
There is now a broad consensus among forest scientists that we have considerably less fire in our forests today compared to the natural levels that occurred prior to fire-suppression policies. And, though it may seem counterintuitive, hundreds of scientific studies have concluded that, in the patches where forest fires burn more intensely and kill most of the trees, the resultant "snag forest habitat" is actually some of the best and most important wildlife habitat in the western U.S.—comparable to old-growth forest in terms of native biodiversity and wildlife abundance.
We also need our public forests to help mitigate climate change, since protected forests absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in growing trees and shrubs. In fact, if we protected our national forests from logging, it would be like taking 13 to 24 million cars off the road.
But the Trump administration and its allies in Congress don't really care about science. They live in a world of "alternative facts" in which clearcuts the size of cities are promoted as fire management, ecological restoration, and climate-resilience measures. Their proposed solution to the risks of wildfire is to destroy the forest in order to save it.
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA magazine.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- 29 Wildfires Blaze Across the West, Fueled by Drought and Wind ... ›
- Large Wildfires Scorch Forests in Drought-Stricken Southwest ... ›
Accessibility to quality health care has dropped for millions of Americans who lost their health insurance due to unemployment. mixetto / E+ / Getty Images
Accessibility to quality health care has dropped for millions of Americans who lost their health insurance due to unemployment. New research has found that 5.4 million Americans were dropped from their insurance between February and May of this year. In that three-month stretch more Americans lost their coverage than have lost coverage in any entire year, according to The New York Times.
- Trump Plans to End Federal Funding for COVID-19 Testing Sites ... ›
- 'Unfathomable Cruelty': Trump Admin Asks Supreme Court to ... ›
On hot days in New York City, residents swelter when they're outside and in their homes. The heat is not just uncomfortable. It can be fatal.
- Extreme Heat-Stressed Locations Could Increase by 80% - EcoWatch ›
- African Americans Are Disproportionately Exposed to Extreme Heat ... ›
- Extreme Heat Is Killing Americans While Government Neglect ... ›
Fracking companies are going bankrupt at a rapid pace, often with taxpayer-funded bonuses for executives, leaving harm for communities, taxpayers, and workers, the New York Time reports.
- Plunging Oil Prices Trigger Economic Downturn in Fracking Boom ... ›
- Fracking Boom Bursts in Face of Low Oil Prices - EcoWatch ›
- As Fracking Companies Face Bankruptcy, U.S. Regulators Enable ... ›
A report scheduled for release later Tuesday by Congress' non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds that the Trump administration undervalues the costs of the climate crisis in order to push deregulation and rollbacks of environmental protections, according to The New York Times.
- Under Trump, EPA Workers Seek Bill of Rights to Allow Them to ... ›
- Trump Adds 'Tasteless Insult to Injury' by Pushing Fossil Fuel ... ›
By Kristen Fischer
It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
- Trump Admin Rejects CDC Reopening Guidelines - EcoWatch ›
- How Do You Stay Safe Now That States Are Reopening? - EcoWatch ›
- Florida Breaks U.S. Daily Record With Over 15,000 New ... ›
By Eoin Higgins
Over 300 groups on Monday urged Senate leadership to reject a bill currently under consideration that would incentivize communities to sell off their public water supplies to private companies for pennies on the dollar.
<div id="fea63" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a6f211c2bc5aedd34837944cb8eeedf"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281000111481294849" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Water in Illinois is overwhelmingly public. Why is Tammy Duckworth sponsoring a bill that aims to change that? https://t.co/1V36Kkd99s</div> — The American Prospect (@The American Prospect)<a href="https://twitter.com/TheProspect/statuses/1281000111481294849">1594249201.0</a></blockquote></div>
- DNC Ignores Progressive Climate Activists - EcoWatch ›
- Who's a Climate Champion and Who's a Climate Disaster? - EcoWatch ›