Wilderness won’t hamper firefighting
I am a supporter of the Hidden Gems Wilderness proposal. I also support a healthy debate over a Wilderness proposal because I think that is how Wilderness bills get better.
But the recent announcement by the Basalt Fire District (BFD) that it will spend $50,000 of taxpayer money to hire a consultant to help them build a case against the designation of new Wilderness on Basalt Mountain seems to go beyond honest debate.
Apparently, the BFD is concerned that designating Wilderness on Basalt Mountain will prevent the district from effectively fighting fires that might threaten Basalt homes. They also worry that Wilderness designation would prevent the District from cutting timber on the mountain to “remove fuel.”
First, the BFD should know, as the U.S. Forest Service knows, that in 1978 Congress made it very clear that the Wilderness Act “permits any measures necessary to control fire, insect outbreaks, and disease in Wilderness areas. This includes the use of mechanized equipment, the building of fire roads, fire towers, fire breaks or fire pre-suppression facilities where necessary and other techniques for fire control. In short, anything necessary for the protection of public health or safety is clearly permissible.”
Second, the Forest Service’s own studies of the fire risk at the “wildland/urban interface” show that by far the most effective protection for homes near the forest takes place within 40 meters of the home. Basalt is surrounded on all sides by wildland fuels. With or without Wilderness on Basalt Mountain, the best thing that the BFD can do to is to educate and work with homeowners to create defensible space around the home by strategically removing flammable fuels, make changes in construction materials, and the like, rather than cut forests miles away from the town.
You have to wonder, what is the Fire District really worried about? If individual members of the District are opposed to Wilderness designation for personal reasons I think they can express that position when they are off duty. And they should use their own resources to make their point instead of my tax dollars. If they want to spend $50,000 of taxpayer funds to reduce fire risk to their constituents, why not spend it helping Basalt residents make their homes more resistant to wildfires?