July 14, 2011

Environmental regulations increasing fire risk

By Environmental regulations increasing fire risk

Author:  Damien M. Schiff

Late last month, a superior court judge in El Dorado County overturned a regional water quality control board's decision to cede permitting authority over timber harvests to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA).  The decision comes from an environmentalist lawsuit brought by Sierra Forest Legacy and the Sierra Club.  The lawsuit contended that the permitting authority transfer violated the California Environmental Quality Act because the agencies hadn't assessed what the impact of the permitting cession would be.

The controversy ultimately arises out of the catastrophic 2007 Angora forest fire in the Lake Tahoe area, which destroyed hundreds of homes and burned thousands of acres of forest.  It was widely thought that the fire's effects were made worse because needed forest management practices (like timbering) had not been done on a regular basis owing to excessive regulation.

In response to that regulatory failing, the regional water quality control board, at the governor's urging, ceded permitting authority to the bi-state TRPA.  But apparently the enviros weren't happy.

What I find most troubling about the case is not so much the legal outcome, which may well be correct, but rather the obvious myopia of the environmental groups.  I can understand why they would not be happy about timber harvesting.  But if the effect of not harvesting is the intensification of forest fires, which significantly increases sediment loading in Lake Tahoe, then why would such timber harvesting be opposed?  Something is wrong with this picture.

What to read next