Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Forget thy neighbor?

The welcome labors of the fire crews who continue to battle fires near Pine, Fairfield and west of the Wood River Valley are making Idaho a major beneficiary of federal spending—again.
    Without the efforts of crews employed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service during the past several years, Idaho might look more like a fire-charred marshmallow than the sage- and forest-covered state that it is.
    Without the efforts of federal, state and local crews during the Castle Rock Fire of 2007, the local area could have been ringed by fire. Without the efforts of today’s wildland firefighters, a couple of local canyons might be aflame.
    Local professional and volunteer firefighters are not trained to fight the wildland fires that are increasing in number and in size as global temperatures creep up and dry out the West.
    Local firefighters are trained primarily to battle structure fires. They number around 200—not nearly enough to battle even the Beaver Creek blaze that is 10-15 miles west of the Wood River Valley. Without federal crews, this fire would be running unimpeded through the Smoky Mountains.
    Without federal help on a fire at Redfish Lake in July, a historic lodge and cabins there would have been toast.
    Local fire departments don’t have the kind of equipment necessary to fight wildland fires—they can’t afford to keep DC-10s and other tanker planes full of fire retardant on hand just in case a wildland fire breaks out. Anyone who’s followed debate in the city of Sun Valley recently knows that that city says it can’t even afford a new ladder truck.
    Idaho and the Wood River Valley have been blessed to receive millions of dollars in federal aid when we needed it. Yet, the drumbeat in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives continues to be cut, cut and cut some more.
    The U.S. Forest Service saw its $2 billion annual firefighting budget reduced by 5 percent this year. That means it’s operating with 500 fewer firefighters and 50 fewer fire engines than last year, according to the agency. The Department of the Interior saw similar cuts that left it with 100 fewer seasonal firefighters.
    The Forest Service has kept Hotshot crews—the ones that respond to the worst fires—largely intact by shifting money from other programs, including those that reduce fuels and restore burned areas. But really, how smart is that?
    The name of our nation, the United States, should say it all: We are states united that help in the worst times and enjoy the best times—together.
    But if the advocates of cutting and cutting some more prevail in what is still the world’s largest economy and the world’s richest nation, they will lead us to abandon one of the nation’s bedrock principles: “United We Stand” and to replace it with “Forget Thy Neighbor.”
    Then where would we be?   

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