Burning the West by Lawsuit

Today in The American, Capital Research Center’s James Dellinger and Stephen Albert highlight an exacerbating factor to wildfire threats: environmental group lawsuits. At issue is the Center for Biological Diversity’s opposition to the Bureau of Land Management’s efforts to curb the rapid growth of weeds, which create fuel for wildfires, through the use of herbicides. As Dellinger and Albert point out, “Weeds on western public lands are estimated to be spreading at the alarming rate of over 2,300 acres per day.” Particularly pernicious is cheatgrass.

Originally from Mediterranean Europe, [cheatgrass] grows up to two feet high in dense patches and quickly develops a root system that chokes out native grasses. Fast-growing cheatgrass also dries out four to six weeks before native plants, becoming incredibly hazardous and providing overwhelming amounts of fuel for rampant wildfires. Moreover, when wildfires ravage forests and prairies in the western states in the summer and fall, cheatgrass is one of the first plants to reappear the following spring.

But when the BLM tries to fight this particularly ruthless weed, it has found opposition from a second foe: the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), an environmental activist group. The Center’s advice: let the cheatgrass grow. Do nothing—even if that leads to more forest fires. The BLM frequently uses controlled fires to manage its lands, but it has found that fire actually increases cheatgrass growth. That’s why it’s resorting to herbicides. On June 29, the agency proposed to triple the number of herbicide-treated acres to 900,000 in 17 western states. It says this will reduce the spread of invasive vegetation while cutting the risk of fires.

Nothing doing, says the Tucson, Arizona-based CBD. The Center promotes an extremist ideology that would sacrifice human needs to the needs of other species, plant as well as animal. The founders of CBD are obsessed with returning Western lands to the wild. Center co-founder Robin Silver has warned urbanites, “We will have to inflict severe economic pain.” Center conservation director Peter Galvin told a reporter, “We’d like to see belly-high grass over millions of acres.”

If Silver and Galvin really have the courage of their professed convictions — “severe economic pain” and “belly-high grass over millions of acres” — are they willing to live in poverty and return their own homes to the wild? That’s a valid question, since they’re endangering the homes of others.