NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Environmental Regulations Played Role In New Mexico Fires

May 25, 2000

Aside from the fact that the National Park Service set the fire which destroyed 47,000 acres of New Mexico forests, restrictions designed to protect the environment made the disaster a certainty, experts report.

  • While Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt blamed the forests for being "too thick" and explained that the reason is that "fire has been excluded for 100 years and there's too much fuel in the forests, too many trees," analysts questioned what the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service had been doing for 100 years while those trees were busy reproducing.
  • New environmental mandates which restrict timber harvests -- and even forbid salvaging trees blown to the ground -- virtually assure such catastrophes, even as sawmills in the West are shutting down and loggers are being laid off.
  • At one time, the Forest Service used herbicides to kill undergrowth and then burned it -- but that practice was stopped, according to a 1999 General Accounting Office report, out fears for water quality and upsetting the habitat of the northern spotted owl.
  • The GAO report said that several officials and experts "believe that emissions from controlled fires... would violate federal air quality standards under the Clean Air Act."

So the Forest Service is having to plead with the Environmental Protection Agency, which administers the Clean Air Act, not to put sanctions on it if it sets controlled fires.

Meanwhile, it has been estimated that the Los Alamos fire released carbon monoxide equivalent to that of 540 million cars idling for one hour.

Source: Kenneth Smith, "Park Destruction Service," Washington Times, May 25, 2000.


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