By Representative Steve Peace
For two weeks, a massive fire has burned nearly 200,000 acres in the Gila Wilderness and National Forest. This blaze, known as the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire, began by a lightning strike, and is well on its way to becoming the worst fire in our state's history.
We appreciate the heroic efforts of the more than 1,000 personnel battling this inferno. These heroes put their lives on the line to help others, and show us what it truly means to be a public servant.
Still, thousands of New Mexicans continue to wonder why our forests are allowed to become powder kegs that invite bigger and hotter fires every summer. It isn't a matter of if our beautiful state's forests are going to burn--it is only a matter of when.
It does not have to be this way. The biggest hindrance is the U.S. Forest Service bureaucracy in Washington, which caters to extreme interest groups that stop responsible forest management. Because the Forest Service refuses to permit logging in our forests, they are overcrowded with trees that go up in flames during droughts, and invite massive conflagrations like we see in the Gila. It would be far easier to thin the forest conscientiously in advance than resort to emergency fire suppression, which risks lives and property.
Special interest groups claim that we must lock up our forests, and tie the hands of local Forest Service administrators by threatening lawsuits every time a responsible forest management policy is proposed. This must stop. Not only do these policies lead to massive destruction of our forests and private dwellings within the forests. The environmental degradation these groups claim to want to avoid occurs on a massive scale through air pollution and the total destruction of habitat, endangered species, and everything else in the fire's path.
As chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus, I implore the Forest Service to unleash the creativity of their local forest rangers and administrators to prepare management plans that suit their specific needs, instead of catering to one-size-fits-all fixes that please extremists, destroy our property, and leave average New Mexicans holding the bag of ruined land and forests that will not grow. Only a miniscule percentage of our forests are set to be thinned each year, which is insufficient, and will not solve this decades-old problem.
On Saturday, June 2nd, I will be in Glenwood to tour the damaged area, meet with first responders, and learn directly from those most affected by this tragedy. It is vital that elected officials keep in touch with the people on the ground, and ensure that their personal stories are shared with distant bureaucrats in order to improve public policy. It is time to share these stories and insist that responsible forest management be implemented for the safety of New Mexicans.