Competitive Enterprise Institute | 1899 L ST NW Floor 12, Washington, DC 20036 | Phone: 202-331-1010 | Fax: 202-331-0640
Washington, D.C., March 17, 1999 – The most effective way to deal with forest fires, both the prevention and suppression, is to shift the responsibility from the Forest Service to the states and local authorities, a new study suggests.
"The Forest Service over the past 20 years has stumbled from one proposed solution to another for its basic management problems, each attempt, in turn, failing," states Robert H. Nelson, author of Ending the Forest Fire Gridlock, a new study published by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) . Nelson is the Senior Fellow in Environmental Studies at CEI and a professor at the School of Public Affairs of the University of Maryland.
"Forest fire is simply one graphic example of how federal management of the National Forests has failed," Nelson concludes in the study. Federal policy has long called for the complete suppression of fires, most notably in the west. These policies led to a build-up of flammable materials. The forests are in a tinderbox condition, the study points out, fires can and do rage out of control under these circumstances. Proposed solutions such as limited logging or controlled burns are met with public opposition and are unlikely to be implemented.
"Ultimately, the primary responsibility rests at the state and local level," Nelson states. "The state and local role would include not only fighting fires that have already broken out but also taking preventative measures." Nelson calls for the money currently spent by the Forest Service to battle forest fires to be sent to the states in block grants for firefighting use, including contracting the services of the existing federal firefighting apparatus.
Any proposal to shift responsibility to the state and local governments must be accompanied by "significant actions to decentralize federal land management responsibility," the study concludes, with the eventual return of federal lands to the states.
CEI, a non-profit, non-partisan public policy group founded in 1984, is dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government. For more information, contact Emily McGee, director of media relations, at 202-331-1010.