Fueling Los Alamos: Longstanding Federal Land Mismanagement Coupled with Recent Timber Restrictions Create Combustible Mix

Washington, DC, May 11, 2000 — The Competitive Enterprise Institute charged that fires like the one raging at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico are a predictable result of deliberate Clinton Administration policy, coupled with long-standing federal land mismanagement.

A century of federal land mismanagement has resulted in a buildup of excess wood levels in the nation’s forests, creating a high risk of large, intense, unmanageable, and highly destructive forest fires. Because federal land management agencies have emphasized putting out fires as soon as they could be discovered, more wood has been left in the forest to burn tomorrow, and the fire hazard continues to grow. More recently, restrictions on timber harvesting have worsened the risks of catastrophic burns.

“Unless it is removed mechanically, most of the wood will have to burn eventually. Consequently, an abundance of dead and dying trees due to the long time absence of fire results in fire intensities that cause enormous damage to soils, watersheds, fisheries, and other ecosystem components,” said Robert Nelson, Senior Fellow in Environmental Studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and author of the forthcoming book, A Burning Issue: A Case for Abolishing the U.S. Forest Service.

Prescribed burns or mechanical removal are the only two ways to get rid of the enormous past buildups of excess wood. The federal land management agencies prefer prescribed burning, which involves setting many small and so-called controllable fires. But the fire raging at Los Alamos is proof that there is always the risk that a prescribed burn can get out of control.

Nelson concludes, “A more workable policy is go in, cut the excess timber, and carry it out. All this talk about prescribed burning has done almost nothing in practice to solve the problem and has needlessly puts lives and property at risk. The Los Alamos fire is just one more example of the failure of governmentally managed land.”

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, please contact Emily McGee, director of media relations, at 202-331-1010, ext. 209.