The Wilderness Society's fire policy, clarified

  I am writing to clarify a statement regarding policy positions of The Wilderness Society in the debate over fire and fuels legislation (HCN, 7/7/03: As fires rage, governors counsel discretion). I believe the statement that we support “loosening up environmental laws” could be taken wrong and wish to set the record straight.

The Wilderness Society supports several principles in fire and fuels legislation. For example, we support placing emphasis on protecting communities through active management in the community zone. We also believe that any legitimate legislation must make additional funding available, and allow that money to be spent across all ownerships, not just on federal land. We believe legislation must contain strong sideboards requiring the protection of old-growth forests and large trees, and we maintain that legislation must promote legitimate hazardous-fuels reduction and not indiscriminate logging in remote areas.

We will also accept provisions that facilitate more efficient and timely decision-making without overriding existing law — such as the use of categorical exclusions for projects in the community zone.

Ultimately, the West must reintroduce fire to selected landscapes in a socially acceptable manner. That will only happen if rural communities on the front lines feel safe, and communities will only feel safe when the land surrounding them — the community protection zone — is treated to reduce hazardous fuels through strategic thinning, brush removal, and prescribed burning. We urge Congress to pass responsible, solution-oriented legislation — in other words, not the administration’s bogus Healthy Forests Initiative.

Jay Thomas Watson
San Francisco, California

The writer is director of The Wilderness Society’s wildlands fire program.