Forests burn while Clinton-Gore administration fiddles

Published April 1, 2000

U.S. Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck appears to have purposefully gone out of his way to mislead the Commonwealth Club of California last January regarding the effectiveness of Clinton-Gore forest policy in reducing the number of forest acres lost to fire.

Dombeck claimed that forest fires now rarely claim more than 4 million acres per year, whereas they used to consume as many as 50 million acres.

He was wrong on both counts.

According to Forest Service statistics, the last year anything near 50 million acres burned was 1933–when there were few access roads in western forests. As more roads were built in the western forests over the next 25 years, the number of acres burned declined dramatically. Since the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s, forest fires have consumed, on average, some 4 million acres per year.

Bringing the average down were 1991, 1992, and 1993–the last three years former President George Bush’s policies were in effect. After the Clinton-Gore policies began to take hold, the Forest Service reported three of the five highest number of acres burned in the last 10 years: 4,727,272 acres in 1994; 6,701,843 acres in 1996 (a ten-year record); and 5,661,976 last year.

More significantly, the number of acres burned per fire was just 44.7 in 1990. By 1999, that figured reached 60.4–a 33 percent increase.