Worst Fire Season In A Century Made Worse By Unwise Federal Policy, Says NCPA Report

DALLAS (August 30, 2000) — Forest fires continue to rage throughout much of the western United States, turning 2000 into one of the worst fire seasons in a century. So far this year, more than 55,000 wild fires have blackened more than 4 million acres.

Why is this happening? According to a new report from the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPASM), the federal government's "no roads" policy is partly to blame.

"The fires that are sweeping the west show much of what is wrong with the current government policy," said Dr. Jeff Edgens, the report's author and a natural resource specialist with the forestry department at the University of Kentucky. "President Clinton's roadless area policy has exacerbated the threat of forest fires by making them a virtual tinder box."

Recently, the Clinton/Gore administration ordered the Forest Service to halt road construction on approximately 50 million acres of national forests. Yet, according to the report, forest roads act as fire breaks and provide access to dead and dying timber for mechanical removal. Without such access, more deadly fires are inevitable. In the last decade:

  • Road building has declined from 2,000 miles in the 1980s to less than 500 miles per year in the late 1990s.
  • During this time, fire damage to homes and property increased sixfold to $3.2 billion.
  • Wildfires that destroy 1,000 acres or more have increased from 25 in 1984 to 89 per year in 1996.

The General Accounting Office reported in 1999 that the large build-up of dead wood and undergrowth in many western forests was creating a tinder box. The greater amount of fuel wood, the more difficult fire suppression becomes. The GAO suggested mechanical removal of this wood, which requires access to forest lands.

"The NCPA report shows that the administration's policies must share much of the blame for the fires," said NCPA senior environmental policy analyst Sterling Burnett. "No roads, no thinning, more fires. It's that simple."