A Century of Forest Service Ineptitude "In 1995 the U.S. Treasury spent over $499 million in taxes on national forest timber sales. The Forest Service retained more than $345 million from the sales. After deducting the cost of constructing logging roads and making payments to the counties where logging occurred, the Treasury saw only a $44 million return from the sales. This made the logging of federal forests in 1995 a $455 million net loser for taxpayers. What happened in 1995 is not an anomaly. In 1993 and 1994 the Forest Service claims that timber sales made roughly $600 million. But actual returns to the Treasury were $800 million less than cost of funding the sales. Since the Forest Service has gone into the business of offering timber for sale, it has routinely lost money." A Conservation History of the National Forests "Today, 109 of 122 of the National Forests lose money on their timber sales and, in doing so they sacrifice the environment and non-timber values in addition to taxpayer dollars. There also remains a $10 billion road maintenance backlog that resulted from the agency building too many subsidized logging roads. The result of these financial incentives and this ongoing mismanagement is that the National Forests are exploited and the agency lacks resources in the areas where they are truly needed -- for watershed restoration, fuel reduction and maintenance of recreational facilities." Timber Dependency and Wilderness Selection: The U.S. Forest Service, Congress, and the RARE II Decisions "The specific goals the Forest Service derived from the Pinchot tradition are to manage the national forests for the purpose of producing a steady flow of wood fiber for the consuming public, to maintain a stable wood products industry, and to promote the stability of local communities economically dependent on wood products.' The Forest Service has as its primary objective the maximization of its budget." Big Timber's Big Lies "Why are they logging our national forests?The main reason is that we're paying them to do it. The Forest Service's own figures reveal that the timber sales program on national forests operates at a net loss to taxpayers of well over $1 billion each year. Not only does the industry get a sweet deal on the trees themselves, but a substantial chunk of its overhead is gratis, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer. We pick up the tab for logging-road construction, timber-sale planning and administrative costs, replanting, and even restoration and cleanup. But this is certainly not the explanation you'll hear from the industry or the Forest Service. According to them, logging provides jobs, offers fire protection, improves forest health, supports rural education, and prevents deforestation in other parts of the world. A closer examination, however, reveals that all of these claims are merely deceptive ploys used to justify continued destruction of our national forests."
The Timber Racket: A culture of corruption and political payoffs harms the land and ourselves "All such regulatory problems germinate at the campaign contribution stage, mushrooming into a pervasive culture that serves profit-driven corporations to the detriment of Joe Citizen. Powerful industries help to finance our elected officials’ political campaigns. This system of legalized bribery has been legitimized by illogical court rulings that campaign contributions are “free speech” and other legal fictions that ignore the reality of a government for sale. In return donors from regulated industries fully expect the regulatory agencies to be made well aware of industry’s expectations and demands. Regulatory dereliction manifests itself in government timber sales in many ways. Standard timber sale contracts overwhelmingly benefit the industry, typically leading to net taxpayer losses on timber sales after the public has paid for logging roads and other costs. Contractual breaches often result in additional company profits rather than penalties when the fines for taking timber illegally are far below the price paid by the mills for illicitly cut timber. Clear-cuts approved by the Forest Service destroy forest diversity but make it less expensive for timber companies to log sites. I observed these and many other flaws over the course of 10 maddening years." The Global Citizen: Timber Industry Takeover "The U.S. Forest Service oversees 156 national forests totaling 191 million acres, about one in five of the forested acres of the nation. These lands are crisscrossed by 369,000 miles of logging roads (eight times the length of the interstate highway system). They yield about twelve percent of the nation's timber at a net loss -- yes, loss -- of $200 million to $500 million a year. There is a loss because the Forest Service essentially gives away those $500 and $5000 bills. It spends more to prepare timber sales, build logging roads, and monitor cuts than it charges the companies that do the cutting. Money is not the only thing that is being lost. So are soils, waters, and future productivity. Sometimes faster, sometimes slower, more in some parts of the country than in others, the forests are being mined." Getting Burned By The Timber Industry "The report nevertheless found that Forest Service managers "tend to (1) focus on areas with high-value commercial timber rather than on areas with high fire hazards or (2) include more large, commercially valuable trees in a timber sale than are necessary to reduce the accumulated fuels." The "low-value materials," said the GAO, "are unattractive to timber purchasers." So much for the timber industry's rhetoric about "thinning understory brush." ..In fact, the Forest Service's own documents state that it fights fires not to protect forest ecosystems, but rather to prevent burns from reducing the commodity value of trees that the agency intends to sell to logging companies. It's all about economics, not ecology."
The Forest Service as a "Learning Challenged" Organization "The US Forest Service has been struggling
for some time to redefine its mission. The old "multiple
use" mission never really got far beyond multiple use timber
management.I just have a perception that too often the Forest Service and other government agencies abuse science by setting it up as a primary driver of social policy, rather than as a delimiter."
Will National Forests Be Sacrificed to the Biomass Industry? "The Forest Service’s logging-for-biomass agenda has “nothing to do with public welfare or the economy,” according to Carl Ross, executive director of Save America’s Forests, an organization that works to protect US forests. Instead, it is simply a way to justify the existence of an agency whose “multi-billion dollar budget is dependent on cutting trees.” With the lumber industry in contraction due to a dismal housing market and tanked economy, the Forest Service focuses on “sick” forests that can only be “cured” through chainsaw surgery to fuel biomass incinerators. The concept of logging a forest to “save” it is nothing new. It dates back to President George W. Bush’s Healthy Forest Restoration Act in 2003. However, a recent uptick in national forest logging has accompanied a rash of new biomass incinerator proposals, with politicians and even some environmental groups like the Nature Conservancy, cheering the industry on."
The Economics of Logging our National Forests "The Forest Service, as a public agency, responds to the financial incentives provided by Congress. To maintain its existence and continue to employ people, the Forest Service can only do those things for which funding is provided by Congress. And Congress, fueled by their own incentives resulting from campaign contributions from the timber industry, provides funding to the Forest Service for the timber sale program. The institutional culture of the Forest Service also drives the emphasis on the timber sale program. This culture is sustained by political appointees who have either been timber industry lobbyists or “proven themselves” in the agency by pushing the timber sale agenda." Some Like It Hot: The Truth About Forest Fire "Fire hysteria also serves the US Forest Service because most of its funding is tied to fire-fighting and logging. Those US Forest Service employees who vilify severe fire and say that tree harvesting prevents fires or “restores” forests after a fire are operating in an organization that is too narrowly focused on trees as commodities—witness the November 7 announcement by the Stanislaus National Forest that they plan to salvage log and artificially replant the recently burned Rim Fire near Yosemite." What We All Pay For Fighting Wildfire, And Saving Homes Built In Harm's Way "Firefighting costs commonly exceed wildfire appropriations. While normally it is illegal for agencies to spend more than is appropriated, the annual Interior appropriations acts have included provisions authorizing the agencies to borrow unobligated funds from other accounts for emergency firefighting once wildfire appropriations have all been spent. These transfers are made without direct congressional approval — a facet Gorte notes is "relatively rare among federal agencies" — and the accounts that are raided are of many different kinds. Some financed Forest Service training of private landowners in better forestry practices, or homeowners in better fire protection and prevention measures." Only You Can Stop The Forest Service "That history began in 1944, a year in which the Forest Service found itself gripped by the imaginary fear of a looming timber famine. If there really was a timber famine, it was only because industry had exhausted timber in the east and midwest and found itself suddenly without forests to clear-cut. The threat of a timber famine in the middle of a war effort produced precisely the panic the timber industry intended. Lobbyists for the timber industry, eyeing the vast public lands of the west, wrote what became the 1944 Sustained Yield Forest Management Act, a law that promised to give commercial timber operators control of forests on public lands." Forest managers face unprecedented challenges returning public lands to their natural state "From World War II through the early 1980s, the Forest Service, the largest landholder in the United States, managed much of its holdings essentially as giant timber farms. Timber companies were allowed to build logging roads within 100 feet of one another deep into the forest. Though many of them are now closed to vehicles, the Lolo National Forest contains 6,200 miles of roads, or enough to drive from coast-to-coast twice. Thousands of acres at a time were clear cut, habitat was destroyed, runoff polluted streams and burned slash piles diminished air quality." The Truth About Tongass "Next came ANILCA, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act
of 1980, which established 104.3 million acres (42.2 million hectares)
of parks, wildernesses, and other reserves throughout the largest state.
In a trade-off engineered by Alaska's congressional delegation, the
same bill mandated that the mills in the Tongass be supplied with a
minimum of 450 million board feet (one million cubic meters) of timber
and a 40-million-dollar annual subsidy—primarily to build roads to
access timber.People on both sides of the Tongass dispute get mad
at the Forest Service. Maybe it is more to be pitied—as the recipient
of conflicting marching orders. The new law essentially forced the
agency to promote heavy logging even as other laws held it responsible
for protecting wildlife and watersheds. Citizens outside the state were
increasingly alarmed by the pace of rain forest destruction and annoyed
that they were funding it." Getting Out the Cut: Politics and National Forest Timber Harvests, 1960-1995 "Both large industry and trade association representatives have cultivated close ties with members of Congress and administrators serving within the upper echelons of the Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture. The funding that the Forest Service receives and the amount of sales receipts counties receive are based on the gross revenue generated from timber sales and not on its overall profitability. Timber industry officials are motivated to minimize their costs by paying as little as possible for national forest timber. Since neither the Forest Service nor counties are overly concerned about the profitability of the timber management program, industry officials are free to set the bid price equal to the least amount the Forest Service will accept (O'Toole, 1988). This tendency is exacerbated by the Forest Service's practice of "cross-subsidization" or combining otherwise nonprofitable timber sales with profitable ones to maximize K-V deposits which, according to O'Toole (1988), actually provides an incentive for the Forest Service to sell timber below-cost." Ending Timber Sales On National Forests: The Facts "This report includes a cash flow analysis which attempts to assess the impact of the national forest timber sale program on the federal budget--using the Forest Service's own figures. The goal is to gauge expenditures associated with the timber sale program (i.e. expenditures which result from the overall timber sale program, including those related to anticipated future sales--not just current year timber sales), tabulate timber sale revenue, and determine the net effect on the budget--i.e., taxpayers. This analysis attempts to include all expenditures which would not exist if there were no timber sales program, such as in national parks. It, therefore, includes some expenditures which are sometimes referred to as "indirect" expenses. Where exact figures were unavailable, and a rational means of approximation could be devised, estimates were used." A Conservation Strategy for the Northern Spotted Owl "Logging (including salvage operations) and other silvicultural activities (with the ex-ception of stand regeneration) should cease within HCAs. The Committee recognizes that allowances will have to be made for timber sales already planned and under contract in HCAs, such as sales necessary to meet Section 318 of Public Law101-1 21." Forestry Services Industry Report "Another condition affecting the forestry services industry was the ongoing battle between the use of public and private forestland for market-driven purposes or for more environmentally conscious purposes, whether or not they made money. At the center of this contentious issue stood the fate of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. Actions to protect diverse ecosystems of the ancient forests raised concern over the impact on small, timber-dependent communities. The northern spotted owl, a regional inhabitant protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1990, became a focal point for the differences between environment and industry, and between public and private forestlands. Many critics of the established system proposed complete privatization of timberlands, arguing that the federally managed system of multiple use and sustained yield also lost tremendous amounts of public money." The Monongahela Controversy and Decision (League vs. Butz, 1973) "As the demand for sawmill timber increased in the early 1960s, the USFS
implemented a new policy that emphasized even-aged management (Berman
and Howe, 1992). In practice, this meant that even-aged management
became the primary system of forest management on 750,000 out of 850,000
acres on the MNF (Weitzman, 1977:16). Early guidelines were poorly
defined, leading to very large clearcuts such as 600 acres in the
southern portion of the Forest in the Cranberry Back Country, which was
followed by a 400 acre clearcut immediately adjacent to it (Weitzman,
1977: 17-18). An 800 acre tract was cut near Richwood, also in the
southern part of the Forest (Berman and Howe, 1992: 142).
The magnitude of the cuttings led those with wildlife interests to
question the sincerity of the USFS’s dedication to the multiple-use
concept. Foresters retorted by stating that they were responding to
demands placed on them to produce timber for housing markets. In
justifying their large clearcuts, the MNF staff also stated that the
lack of high quality roads in the mountainous MNF terrain forced them to
concentrate their cuts in areas which were accessible (Weitzman, 1977;
Berman and Howe, 1992).
Idaho forest history, 1975-2000: End of America’s Timber Frontier "In the National Forests, a “conspiracy of optimism” has prevailed since World War II. The Forest Service pursued high levels of road-building and logging. Advancement and rewards within the system went to those who got out the cut. The Forest Service -- entrusted with sustaining the National Forests -- instead extracted most of the easily accessible stands of commercial timber and became the largest road-building agency on earth: responsible for more than 400,000 miles of logging roads. Taxpayers have lost billions of dollars on this economic folly in the National Forests, and still face a road-maintenance backlog the Forest Service estimates at $8 billion. In places like the Coeur d’Alene, the forests have been devastated."
The Fully Managed, Multiple-Use Forest Era, 1960-1970 "The first of the environmental protection laws was the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960. Its purpose was to ensure that all possible uses and benefits of the national forests and grasslands would be treated equally. The "multiple uses" included outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and wildlife and fish in such combinations that they would best meet and serve human needs."
Rethinking Scientific Management "Contrary to the tenets of scientific management,the most important forest fire lessons of the twentieth century have been learned through practical experience and trial and error, not academic research. Suppressing fire in the past has now led to increased fire risks in the future, owing to the buildup of brush and dense thickets of smaller trees in many forests. As Pynes relates, it took many decades, culminating in the large fires of the past decade, to prove to disbelieving Forest Service eyes that "the decision not to burn can be as ecologically fatal as promiscuous burning." In "removing anthropogenic fire from many environments," the Forest Service committed "less an act of humility than of vandalism." The tendency of professionals to overestimate the power of their own methods often rendered them incapable of seeing the essential contributions that other forms of knowledge and of decision making could make. Although they did not have forest fire policy in mind, the actions of the professional foresters of the Forest Service over the course of the twentieth century have served well to illustrate this much broader failure of scientific management concepts of professionalism in the 20th century." Why the Forest Service logs our National Forests "The answer to this question gets to the root of why the Forest Service logs our National Forests. The answer is timber, plain and simple. If you look past their cleverly disguised wildlife arguments or spend time reviewing their proposals, it is clear that their motivation is the timber industry’s motivation." Revolving door: Forest Service official bails for industry group "The Bush administration's top lawyer for the U.S. Forest Service is leaving to take a job with the nation's leading timber industry lobbying group. Jan W. Poling, associate general counsel for natural resources at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will be the new general counsel for the American Forest and Paper Association, the organization said Friday." U.S. Taxpayers Pay to Have Their National Forests Logged, Depleted "In 1997, the Forest Service reported a loss of $88 million. According to today’s report, Timber Sale Program Information and Reporting System (TSPIRS), the Forest Service lost $126 million as a result of money-losing logging operations in the national forests. The USFS’s timber sale program generated $546 million in FY1998, but the program cost $672 million to operate. The loss equals a $2,200 subsidy per timber job. “This free lunch for the timber industry must end. This is a clear- cut case of corporate welfare,” continued Oppenheimer." Seeing the Forest for the Trees: Placing Washington's Forests in Historical Context "The history of Washington's forests can be divided into four broad periods. Until 1848 the vast forests sustained several Indian tribes and fascinated Anglo explorers. During this first period the lumber industry was still in its infancy, with the Hudson Bay Company erecting the first mill in the Pacific Northwest at Fort Vancouver in 1828. The beginning of the California Gold Rush in 1848 brought the second phase. At this time several outside investors, most from San Francisco, built mills along Puget Sound, propelling the lumber industry into the dominant role in the area's economy." Fishermen Getting Shafted By Salvage Rider "The timber industry loathes the Clinton Forest Plan, and they saw their chance to undercut it with this new and strikingly anti-environmental Congress. Led by Jim Bunn of Oregon, Norm Dicks and Senator Gorton of Washington, and with the active support of Oregon Senators Hatfield and Packwood (now Chairmen of two powerful Senate committees) they introduced and narrowly passed the “timber salvage rider.” Rather than allow full and free debate on it as a standing bill, however, they managed to quietly slip it into an emergency disaster relief and anti-terrorism bill to try to make it “veto proof.” The original bill (H.R. 1158) was, in fact, vetoed by President Clinton the first time around because of the rider, but in a form of political blackmail Clinton had to sign it the second time around to get much needed disaster aid for Oklahoma bombing victims and flood victims in Southern California. It became law as Section 2001 of H.R. 1944. What the rider does is to suspend every law on the books so far as public forestlands are concerned. Section 2001 specifically suspends a whole laundry list of environmental laws, including “any compact, executive agreement, convention, treaty, and international agreement, and implementing legislation related thereto,” and for good measure “all other applicable Federal environmental and natural resource laws.” Even guaranteed Tribal treaty rights are suspended under this provision." The Northwest Forest Plan "The Northwest Forest Plan was a compromise that did not go far enough to protect the region's remaining old-growth forests, sensitive wildlife species, or, arguably, a sustainable economy. The Plan allows logging and road building in ecologically critical areas, across all land use allocations. The Northwest Forest Plan did not fully protect mature and old-growth forests, roadless areas, municipal watersheds, and complex young forests that are recovering from fire. The Plan is also too dependent on under-funded, but necessary, restoration and monitoring efforts. And the Plan expects an unattainable amount of timber production from public land. The Northwest Forest Plan left the agencies with enough discretion that the Bush administration was able to change the rules and increase logging of valuable forests."
Clinton Betrays Forests: Timber Beasts Go After the Last 5% "On July 27, 1995, President Clinton signed into law the 1995 Interior Appropriations Rescissions Act. This includes the "timber salvage rider" which suspends existing environmental laws governing logging on public lands. Congress held no hearings or debates on this bill. "Salvage" is a general term referring to timber sales held in areas that have been damaged by natural or anthropogenic causes (such as fire, disease, or insects). Although he had vetoed a similar measure earlier, Clinton reportedly signed the budget bill (with the rider) as part of a back room deal he made with Senators Mark Hatfield and Slade Gorton to preserve his Americorps jobs program-thus wiping out 20 years of environmental legislation. The rationale that the timber industry offered to Congress for the salvage rider was a phony "forest health crisis" that demands clear-cutting as a cure. In fact, to the extent there is a forest health crisis, it is a result of decades of abuse of public lands. Easily accessible areas have been high-graded (i.e., the largest and healthiest stands of ancient trees have been cut); logging equipment has damaged soils; roads have fragmented formerly roadless areas; forests have been turned into tree farms; continuous fire suppression has caused tinder fuels, which otherwise would have been cleared by natural low-intensity burns, to build up to dangerous levels."
Northwest Forest Plan Fact Sheet & Policy "At least in the short-term, the high-level of illegal clearcutting in the 1980s and the volume released by the 318 rider in the 1990s boosted the short-term timber supply and profits of a few timber companies, but ultimately the train wreck strategy will backfire. Our public forests are so over-cut as a consequence of this ill-conceived forest policy that timber harvest now must be drastically reduced in order to allow our public forests to heal." Stewardship Contracting For Federal Forests "Many forests, especially the national forests, are widely thought to have unnaturally high amounts of dead and dying trees, dense undergrowth, and dense stands of small trees. This biomass can exacerbate insect and disease infestations and wildfire threats. Because much of this biomass has little or no commercial value,some have proposed stewardship contracting to reduce these threats. This report discusses the advantages and limitations of two approaches that have been suggested." Bush Administration Takes Aggressive Forest Thinning Measures "Matthew Koehler with the Native Forest Network in Missoula, Montana sees the issue differently. "President Bush has ignored common sense home protection measures and limited citizen participation in order to increase commercial logging on 20 million acres of our national forests, a stated goal of his administration since day one. You can rest assured that we will do everything in our power to stop projects that don't protect communities or restore our public forests," he pledged." Healthy Forest Initiative "The HFI was based on the false assumption that landscape-wide logging would decrease forest fires. General scientific consensus has found that logging actually increases fire risk. While the primary objectives of the law were to thin overstocked stands, to create shaded fuel breaks, improve forest firefighting, and to eliminate hazardous fuels, the true impact of the proposal was to rewrite forest management, circumvent public participation and focus attention on large, remote, fire-resistant trees instead of protecting communities closer to home." American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009 "The U.S. Department of Agriculture is implementing provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to put Americans back to work and rejuvenate the nation’s economy. The Recovery Act provided USDA with nearly $28 billion in funding. Of that amount, $1.15 billion was allocated to the U.S. Forest Service for project work in forest restoration, hazardous fuels reduction, construction and maintenance of facilities, trails and roads, green energy projects, and grants to states, tribes and private landowners. The U.S. Forest Service then provided funding to states on a competitive basis." 2014 Farm Bill Breakdown: Conservation Groups Happy with Passage, Despite Some Cuts "The bill's Forestry chapter, Title VII, permanently extends stewardship
contracting and expands good-neighbor authority on roughly 193 million
acres of national forests and allows the U.S. Forest Service to
designate "landscape-scale" treatment areas and use expedited permitting
authority to protect the areas from insects or disease." US government to spend $30M on forest restoration "Logging won’t help reduce wildfire risks or protect watersheds because areas thinned of trees allow the wind to blow through more easily, which could spread flames more quickly, executive director Mike Garrity said. The money would be better used by helping landowners in wildland-urban interface areas remove trees and other fuels around their homes, he said."
Montana Soap Box: Environment under attack "In fact, “restoration” has often become a euphemism for logging, contrary to a growing body of science that undermines this rhetoric. After the sensationalized stories about last summer’s wildfire in Yosemite National Park, roughly 200 scientists signed a letter to Congress opposing a bill that would expedite post-fire logging in the national park and other burned areas. While the effects of logging on wildfire risk remain uncertain at best, we know the outcome of increased logging on forest resources: more loss of wildlife, damage to soils and pollution in our streams. Most recently, a Montana university entomologist reviewed projects using logging as a tool to combat pine-beetles and found no evidence to support the practice." Clear-cut logging Chessman fragments wildlife habitat "Corrupt politicians have used our national forests as a political football for far too long. Rep. Daines, Gov. Bullock, Sens. Tester and Walsh are all pressuring USDA Secretary Vilsack to approve 5.1 million acres of Montana’s national forests for expedited logging. Chessman is the just tip of the iceberg. Pine beetles and fire are not an indication of poor health in lodgepole pine forests. There is no scientific evidence that indicates forest conditions in the Ten Mile watershed are abnormal. In its current condition the forest continues to provide valuable habitat for wildlife and water for fish and Helena residents. New trees will replace the dead ones. Life in the lodgepole forest will go on as it has for millennia. The logging prescribed to prevent large-scale wildfire and the spread of insect populations won’t work as advertised. It’s time for ordinary people to do their own assessment of the actual risk posed by forests behaving like forests. Risk is commonly assessed by considering the probability of an event happening, combined with the probable consequences if such an event occurs. The risk of fire is always present, but the probability of fire occurring at a specific location is low. The probability of a large-scale fire is very low. The risk of a “catastrophic” wildfire followed by a torrential downpour that shuts off Helena’s water supply is infinitesimally small."
Fighting More Forest Fires Will Come Back to Burn Us "Weldon says the Forest Service is playing on fear of fire in order to keep itself well-funded. “The Forest Service is looking at spending $500 million to get new generation air tankers” (which drop water and flame retardant on fires from above), he says. “But there’s never been a scientific study that demonstrates the effectiveness of large air tankers. … It’s a prime example of how powerful the fire industrial complex has become in a very short time. It’s not only the politicians and industry. It’s the agency.”
The Flawed Assumptions of the Farm Bill: The Myth of “Forest Health” Logging "There are widely held assumptions that logging will reduce or preclude large wildfires and beetle outbreaks. The recent Farm Bill provision that would allow categorical exclusion to log up to 3000 acres without environmental reviews (as required by NEPA) is based on flawed assumptions about forest health and wildfire."
Putting Out Fires by Throwing Money on Them Now that forest fires are in the news, someone noticed that President Obama has proposed a new way of funding wild firefighting. Instead of borrowing from its fuels treatment funds when the Forest Service exhausts its regular fire-fighting budget, Obama wants to let the agency draw upon a new “special disaster account” that is “adjusted each year to reflect the 10-year average cost of responding to such events.” As far as I know, no democracy has given any government agency a blank check to accomplish any goal–except the Forest Service for fighting fires. Even the Pentagon was given budgets for fighting World War II, the Cold War, and other wars. But in 1908, Congress gave the Forest Service a blank check for firefighting, saying the agency could spend as much as it needed to suppress fires, and Congress would reimburse it later. Congress repealed the blank-check law in about 1978, leading to eight years of relatively modest spending on firefighting. But after two serious fire seasons in 1987 and 1988, Congress reimbursed the agency’s firefighting debts, and since then it has muddled about, not knowing what to do. Obama’s new proposal puts the agency firmly back in the blank-check mode. Nor are costs high because of new houses in the woods, or wildland-urban interface as fire people call it. Protecting these homes only requires treatment, either in advance of the fire through landscaping and home design or as fires approach through application of fire retardant, of the homes themselves and land within 150 feet of the homes. Anything the Forest Service does beyond that 150 feet is neither necessary nor sufficient to protect homes that are themselves untreated.