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9.11.08

Obama on Fire

Bill Gabbert points out that the Obama-Biden campaign put out a 2-page position paper on wildland fire (pdf). It's fairly general and not especially radical, but it does hit two key policy priorities that any reasonable fire policy ought to include:
1) Creating a dedicated funding source so that the Forest Service doesn't keep raiding other areas of its budget to pay for firefighting (thus inhibiting both pre-fire fire management and other types of forest management).
2) Focusing fuel reduction on areas closest to the wildland-urban interface rather than in the backcountry. This makes the fuel reductions more effective and reduces conflicts with ecological goals that could arise from large-scale mechanical thinning.
There are also a lot of references to involving the public and local governments, which is good but not concrete enough to merit a bullet point of its own.

The one big oversight I see is that the Obama-Biden plan doesn't directly address the core of Bush's fire policy (which was in turn the core of his environmental agenda) -- restrictions on environmental reviews and appeals with respect to fire mitigation projects. These restrictions were justified by exaggerating the problem of lawsuits by environmental groups holding up the Forest Service's work, and resulted in removal of accountability (see Vaughn and Cortner's book for a good analysis). Some of these restrictions were put in place by Congress through the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, but others can be altered by executive order. Obama's team has apparently put together a list of some 200 policies he will immediately set about fixing without needing to go through Congress, such as repealing the "global gag rule" on foreign aid recipients talking about abortion, and allowing California to enact stronger greenhouse gas policies. Hopefully the full list includes rolling back the appeal-limiting aspects of Healthy Forests.

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