The Blog

Up In Smoke

A decade and a half of species protection planning helps bring on a species disaster in the fires of California.

11:00 PM, Oct 29, 2003 • By HUGH HEWITT
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The land that has passed into "conserved" status is at even greater risk of fire than private land that is home to a protected species because absolutely no one cares for its fire management policy. The scrum of planners, consultants, and G-11s that put together the plans should be monitoring these areas closely. Instead, they regulate and move on to savage the property rights of the next region.

THE MOST PRESSING QUESTION for the federal government after the fires are put out will be the number of acres of land burned which had already been set aside for species conservation purposes. Whatever that number is, it will be a challenge to the drafters of the plans to provide evidence that they had anticipated the conserved acres being charred. Of course they didn't, but that won't protect the guilty from intoning about the natural benefits of fire. In their acquisitiveness, the planners have focused only on locking up land against development, not in protecting it from devastating fire. The nakedness of their error is found in the very plans they developed, which lack comprehensive fire management programs and the means to carry them out.

The Bush administration, as in so many areas, inherited eight years of disastrous extremism dressed up as "science"--described by Bruce Babbitt as "walking lightly on the land." Babbitt's tenure as Secretary of the Interior, seen through the smoke of California and the charred remains from Arizona, Colorado, and South Dakota, is clearly the most damaging to the environment in the history of the department.

All the fine phrases and photo-ops cannot disguise that the self-proclaimed defenders of the ecosystem have become its worst enemies.

Secretary of the Interior Gail Norton would be well advised to launch an investigation by an independent panel not dominated by agenda activists into the role in creating the conditions for this disaster played by the ESA and other federal controls such as those administered by the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA. In the meantime, the agency ought to promulgate a nationwide "take" permit for fire protection activities impacting endangered species. There is no need for a sequel.

The key recognition: The species that live close to humans are the ones that are faring the best. When the chips are down, we are species-centric, and rush to save the lives and property of human beings. Habitat conservation planners would be well advised to remember that the proximity of human housing to species preserves isn't a threat to those preserves, it is a guarantee of active and species-saving management.

Hugh Hewitt is the host of The Hugh Hewitt Show, a nationally syndicated radio talkshow, and a contributing writer to The Daily Standard. His new book, In, But Not Of, has just been published by Thomas Nelson.