Paragon Victory Finally Receives Bush Response! Western states should have the ability to effect change in the forests within their borders, to protect the lives and property of their citizens

by Clifford Nichols, Esquire

PFNS, Alamogordo, NM - 8/24/02 - Paragon's year-and-a-half old victory with Senate Bill
1 has finally earned a response from the Bush administration.

More than eighteen months ago, Paragon took on the project of underwriting
legislation that would allow New Mexicans to clean up their forests. Working
with Albuquerque attorney Clifford Nichols, who wrote the bill, Paragon was
completely successful in the passage of Senate Bill 1.

Since then, the organization has become increasingly frustrated by local
officials who fail to take advantage of the new law. In spite of the ability
to protect their citizens, county commissioners throughout the state have
been slow to take action.

Paragon recently retained Nichols for the purpose of seeing that Senate Bill
1 receives the attention it deserves for purposes of forest and watershed
health. As part of that goal, Nichols recently wrote to Senator Tom Daschle
(D-SD) in response to his new logging legislation to benefit the Black
Hills. Now commonly known as "The Daschle Letter," Nichols' missive has gone
out to hundreds of state and federal legislators around the country.

In his letter, Nichols pointed out that each state whose national forests
are in emergency situations which threaten the lives and property of its
citizens, should petition the Secretary of Agriculture for jurisdiction over
those lands. This jurisdiction would enable the state to correct the
conditions causing the emergency. According to "The Daschle Letter," the
Secretary would then be in a position to do one of several things. The
options include: "(1) Transfer jurisdiction to the state and let the state
clean up the mess in the federal forests of which you (Daschle) have
complained; (2) Refuse transfer of jurisdiction to the state, but force the
Forest Service to accomplish what the state requested it be empowered to do;
or (3) Refuse to transfer jurisdiction to the state and do little or nothing
to correct or eliminate the conditions giving rise to the already declared
state of emergency in that state."

Even under the third scenario he lists, Nichols says western citizens may
still benefit from the administration's failure to act.

"The federal government may be found to have accepted liability for all
damages to the citizens of the affected state for damages caused by
uncontrollable, but now undeniably foreseeable, catastrophic fires in the
future," Nichols' letter says.

It appears that President Bush has finally gotten the message of Senate Bill
1 - that the western states should have the ability to effect change in the
forests within their borders, to protect the lives and property of their
citizens. However, in response to The Daschle Letter, the Bush
administration has taken a very safe stance on forest policy. In an
editorial printed today in USA Today, Interior Secretary Gale Norton stated
that the policy would include prescribed burns and mechanical thinning of
small trees and undergrowth.

Unfortunately for the forests, there is nothing "new" about this policy.
It's only a smokescreen for the administration. In their Ten-Year
Comprehensive Strategy published last year, the Forest Service calls for
"...conducting prescribed fire and understory thinning" to "reduce the
threat of severe wildland fire while simultaneously contributing to
ecosystem health." Bush's plan only advocates the same policies, which led
to the current state of emergency in the national forests.

In fact, the only new policy in the Bush-Norton plan appears to be the
attempt to insulate the federal government from liability for private homes
that may burn due to inadequate fire precautions on the part of homeowners.
Norton says those homeowners who ".have not taken simple steps to create
defensible spaces around their homes." can not expect firefighters to work
to save those homes.

Bush's announcement is scheduled for tomorrow. Pressure must be placed on
the administration and the Department of the Interior to allow western
states to protect their citizens, property, watersheds, and threatened and
endangered animals. The federal government must be held accountable for
failed policies, which threaten the lives and property of local citizens.


PFNS is a public service of The Paragon Foundation, Alamogordo, NM

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref.]


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