Congressional Republicans are exploiting the tragedy of the Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona to call for the aggressive thinning of forests, saying that the failure to cut down more trees is leading to increased fire risk. It's a cynical political move; thick forests had nothing to do with the blaze that killed 19 firefighters. Why? Because Yarnell wasn't a forest fire; it was a brush fire in an area covered mainly by desert scrub and chaparral.
In their rush to blame Democratic policies for the deaths and, while they are at it, to provide a giveaway to the logging industry, the Republicans aren't letting facts get in the way. Within days of the devastating news that all but one member of an elite firefighting team had perished, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation arranged an oversight hearing on the topic for Thursday. Its conclusion, though, seems to have been reached in advance. "Unnatural, excessive growth and unhealthy forests increase the risk of wildfire," last week's announcement said. "Active management helps protect and restore forests while also helping local economies and creating jobs."
The announcement goes on to quote Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar linking the deaths to the lack of aggressive forest thinning: "We owe these men our everlasting thanks, and we owe their families a commitment to pursue proactive forest management policies, which will minimize catastrophic wildfires in the future." Though forest thinning was strongly pushed during the George W. Bush administration, it is viewed with concern by environmentalists and their Democratic allies.