Congressmen rip Park Service for huge
by DON THOMPSON 10/24/2012 Mercury News
SACRAMENTO, Calif.—Two California congressmen blasted the
National Park Service on Wednesday for letting a wildfire burn
despite extreme conditions last summer, a decision that
conflicted with the practices of other state and federal
agencies. U.S. Reps. Wally Herger and Tom McClintock, both
Republicans from Northern California, criticized Lassen Volcanic
National Park officials for decisions that allowed the Reading
fire to eventually erupt into an inferno that scorched more than
42 square miles and cost $15 million to suppress.
It destroyed private property, hurt the region's logging
industry and devastated prime tourism destinations in an area
known for its remote beauty.
Herger said the officials responsible for allowing the fire to
burn during "a terrible fire season" should be removed and
changes made to the national policy that uses managed wildfires
as a tool to clear out forests and improve wildlife habitat.
McClintock used the hearing to advocate for a resumption of
widespread logging. He said clear-cutting can have the same
effect as fires that leave behind a "moonscape" of devastation,
though he later said he is not advocating clear-cutting. Massive
wildfires cause air pollution, environmental damage and threaten
people and wildlife, McClintock said.
"Any squirrel fleeing a fire knows this," he said, "which leads
me to the unflattering but inescapable conclusion that today our
forest management policy is in the hands of people who lack the
simple common sense that God gave a squirrel." McClintock said
the current policy is that "we have to destroy the forest in
order to save it," a notion that he described as "New Age
Bill Kaage, the park service's Wildland Fire Branch chief,
generally defended the decisions but said park officials intend
to learn from the fire. Park officials should have done a better
job of coordinating with other federal, state and local agencies
and area residents, he acknowledged, and other lessons may come
from an internal review due to be completed next month.
Though the fire jumped the park's boundary and blazed out of
control, no structures were damaged and there was just one minor
injury, said Kaage, the only park official to testify.
"Fire is a very high-risk, high consequence endeavor," he said.
"With that high risk, there are successful outcomes and outcomes
that are less than successful."
Park Service officials' decision conflicted with the U.S. Forest
Service's practice last summer of quickly putting out fires
because of extraordinarily dry conditions across the West,
testified Joe Millar, the agency's Fire and Aviation Management
director for the region that covers California. The two federal
agencies differ over their approaches to fighting wildfires and
have had previous conflicts over the matter throughout the West.
Andy McMurry, deputy director for fire protection for the
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said the
decision to treat the lightning-caused fire as a timber
management tool came "at an inopportune time" and ran counter to
his agency's policy of quickly stamping out every fire before it
Kaage said park officials followed the same federal wildfire
policy used by the Forest Service and other federal agencies and
stuck to their own fire management plan when they decided to
monitor what began as a remote, low level, half-acre fire. The
only difference is that the Forest Service makes fire management
decisions at the regional level, while the Parks Service leaves
those decisions to local officials, he said in supporting that
Similar managed fires burned uneventfully this summer in
Yosemite and Rocky Mountain national parks, Kaage said, and even
seemingly devastated areas recover in time from fires that are a
natural and inescapable part of the Western landscape.
The fire jumped its perimeter a week after it began. At one
point it threatened nearly 150 homes and 50 commercial
It burned through part of the Pacific Crest Trail north of Lower
Twin Lake, much of the popular 10-mile Twin Lakes Loop Trail,
and the less heavily used Nobles Emigrant Trail, said Lassen
park spokeswoman Karen Haner. However, none of the park's
popular hydrothermal areas were affected.
Wednesday's hearing was requested by angry Shasta County
The park is surrounded by generally poor communities that used
to rely on the timber industry but now survive on the brief
summer tourist season, testified Pam Giacomini, a business owner
who has been elected to the Shasta County Board of Supervisors.
The fire "cost them dearly," she said, suggesting that park
officials be required to compensate local businesses for their
Those communities saw no economic benefit from the fire but
would from a resurgent timber industry, said Giacomini and
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