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Wildfire On The Campaign Trail

U.S. Trims Wildfire Crews

The federal government may have about 30 percent fewer firefighters for this year’s Western wildfire season than it did last year, according to lawmakers — setting the stage for what could be an election-year debacle on the fire lines.

"All indications suggest that this will be an extremely challenging fire season, and we cannot afford to allow our federal firefighter capability to fall so far below last year’s level," Reps. Charles Taylor, R-N.C., and Norman Dicks, D-Wash., said in a letter late last week to Agriculture Secre tary Ann Veneman, addressing funding problems.

... "It's not dissimilar to budgeting for war," he [Mark Rey, the Agriculture Department's undersecretary for natural resources and environment] added. "You're going to be confronted with on-the-spot variables, and that's going to affect how it works."

It sounds like budgeting for a war -- specifically the Rumsfeldian "war on the cheap" style of budgeting.

The opening paragraph insinuates that a bad fire season would hurt Bush, but I'm not so sure. He was able to effectively use the California fires last year to get everyone behind his Healthy Forests plan, which is front and center in his claim to have been a good environmental steward. So bad fires could just give him an opportunity to highlight Healthy Forests. What would make it work against Bush would be if Kerry can get a strong counter-message out there. (Though he'll have to be careful not to get slammed for "politicizing" the issue, especially as the accusation of politicizing things looks to be central in this year's Republican message.)

You'd think that, with Bush making Healthy Forests such a big part of his environmental message and Kerry being such a strong environmentalist, that he would have a good message on wildfire control. Sadly, this post from last October is still correct. Searching Kerry's website, Healthy Forests seems to be mentioned in only two contexts -- as an example of misleading language, and as an example of Bush's giveaways to corporations. Both of these are important points. But Kerry also needs to have more than one paragraph of positive wildfire control policy.


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