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Burning Pennsylvania

Authority Wavers On Sale Of Land

After a three-year courtship with the Nature Conservancy, the Bethlehem Authority is having cold feet over a multimillion-dollar deal to sell the environmental group a 10,000-acre easement on the authority's Poconos watershed.

... The rare groupings of plants are shrinking — the land once measured 15,000 acres and is now at 3,000. The conservancy had proposed doing controlled burns — a method conservationists use to allow a forest to regenerate rare fauna. That method came under scrutiny three years ago when a burn in New Mexico got out of control and ignited a raging forest fire.

If the easement goes through, solicitor James Broughal said, he fears the authority would be liable if a burn got out of control because the authority still owns the land.

It's easy to think of ecologically necessary wildfire as something that only happens out west or in Australia, but here we've got the potential for some nearly in my own backyard. It's even the focus of the Conservancy's work in the area . The cynical side of me wonders if the controlled burn liability issue is an excuse for another concern -- perhaps the controversy over the Conservancy's higher-ups abusing their power and wealth. Granted, I can't make an independent judgement about whether the authority would be liable for an out-of-control burn (I wouldn't even know where to start), or about the need for someone to be burning the land in question eventually. But my red flag always goes up when someone uses a procedural objection like this, as they're often (though not always) cover for substantive objections that the objector thinks won't fly. So really, all I have to say is "neat, fire ecology in Pennsylvania."


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