Congressman Steve Pearce plans on cutting trees down on the Lincoln National Forest as a part of Otero County’s emergency tree cutting stunt scheduled on September 17, 2011. But it is a mystery what exactly the emergency is and what Otero County and Congressman Pearce are protesting. They appear to be under the impression that the Lincoln National Forest is not managing hazardous fuels and thus failing to address fire risk. But they are dangerously deluded.
A quick look at the numbers immediately puts the Congressman’s fears to rest. In the past 10 years (2000-2010) the national forest has treated forest-wide nearly 3 times more acres for hazardous fuels than in the 20-year period during 1980-1999. Congressman Pearce can now go back to his job in Washington and stop inciting hysteria amongst his constituents.
By cutting trees without a permit, the Otero County Commissioners and Congressman Pearce risked arrest and charges of violating federal law for stealing and/or damaging government property. (See for example 18 USC 371; 18 USC 641; 18 USC 1852; 7 CFR 3017.305; 7 CFR 3017.405; 36 CFR 223.48; and 36 CFR 261.6). However, it seems the Forest Service in Albuquerque will bend over backward to accommodate their political theatrics. According to the Alamogordo Daily News, Otero County Commissioners have negotiated a deal with federal attorneys in Albuquerque. An agreement that allows logging on one parcel of land in the forest was signed through the U.S. Attorney's office.
However, the commissioners and Congressman Pearce still need sawyer’s certificates, insurance and bonding to be allowed onto the logging site. Logging is inherently hazardous and requires experience, safety training, and safety equipment. If OSHA decides to make an inspection of the logging event, participants will have to be fully compliant with federal law or face citations and steep fines.
The Congressman’s theatrics demonstrate just how far outside of the mainstream he is. Fuels treatment programs on the national forests in New Mexico are ongoing, including thinning and controlled burning. The Forest Service Southwestern Region treated 202,414 acres (76,661 in NM and 125,753 in AZ) in 2010 for high hazardous fuel loads and to date 87,438 acres (35,208 in NM and 52,230 in AZ) in 2011. George Ellinger, owner of Ellinger Logging in Alamogordo, N.M., told the Alamogordo Daily News on that Pearce is misinformed. “There’s a misconception that there’s no logging going on,” he said. “Pearce came down and did a big talk with everybody, but he’s not talking to anybody who knows anything.”
Rather than rabble-rousing vigilante behavior, the Congressman should join conservationists, forest practitioners, the forest service, and the forest products industry in working on forest management programs that have been agreed upon and are scientifically defensible, for example the Collaborative Forest Restoration Program. But this takes time and energy as well as commitment to compromise, which seems outside of Congressman Pearce’s playbook.
Pearce’s desire to return the logging industry in New Mexico to its glory days is simply anachronistic and ignores free market economics. Housing starts and the lumber industry have reached historic lows in recent years, without demand logging and milling make no sense. However, controlled burning and strategic thinning does make sense and generates jobs and income. The Congressman should support the programs that facilitate these activities. He’s welcome to join us in the zone of agreement anytime.