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26.5.06

Do You Trust The Forest Service?

Now that I've showered and eaten, I can give a bit more substantive comment on the article linked to in my previous post. Aside from the comparison of environmental litigation to WWII Japanese military strategy, it makes a pretty standard conservative argument about wildfires -- the wildfire risk is due to excessive fuel buildup, which we should reduce through logging, but environmentalist lawsuits are holding up the process.

This argument is a great example of one of the core threads of modern conservatism -- trust in the government. Conservatives have inherited the New Deal faith in impartial technocratic administrators who will pursue the public good so long as nobody goes poking around in their wiretapping programs or meetings with lobbyists. On the wildfire issue, the conservative position presumes that, if left alone to do its job, the Forest Service would efficiently pursue hazard reduction. Citing (misleading) statistics* on the number of logging projects that are blocked and the amount of additional paperwork the Forest Service assumes that the Forest Service's initial plan is optimal, and any changes occaisioned by public scrutiny necessarily compromise it.

But this assumption of bureaucratic good-will is exactly where the environmentalist viewpoint diverges from the conservative one. Environmentalists don't trust the Forest Service. They've seen how administrations in general, and the Bush regime especially, have turned agencies like the Forest Service into an instrument of the spoils system. They have seen that reducing public oversight of government leads not to efficiency but to corruption.

Environmentalists, therefore, don't trust either the Forest Service's general commitment to logging as a solution to fire risks, or their particular plans for fuel reduction projects. They recognize that just because the Forest Service says they're planning to mitigate fire risks doesn't mean they're not actually planning a giveaway to timber companies. The conservative argument tends to conflate the reasonable proposition that logging can -- if done in the right way and in the right places -- be a tool for hazard reduction, with the ridiculous claim that all logging, by its very nature, reduces the fire hazard.

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