California Fires Could Trigger Massive Changes in Forest Management

The devastating forest fires raging across Southern California this week could initiate a change in environmental policy as sweeping — but probably not as desirable — as those ushered in by the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster. Forest-management experts say blame for the fires is widespread, but the most recent act of neglect lies at the door of the Bush administration: While (successfully) pushing its Healthy Forests initiative as a way to prevent forest fires, the White House simultaneously denied an emergency request by Gov. Gray Davis (D) for $430 million to remove dead trees from fire-prone areas. The rejection was issued Oct. 24, six months after the request was made — and just hours before the area burst into flames. Now, with two of the region’s most popular destinations threatened by fire, public sentiment could veer sharply toward more logging and less faith in environmental groups, which sometimes oppose thinning projects.