Today’s decisions have long term impacts – July/Aug. 2012

–Look at the impact fires are having due to decisions made long ago to not harvest timber

This last month saw several items occur on the national scene that will have long term impacts on Wyoming.  The one which received the most publicity was the Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. 

The news media talking heads have analyzed, criticized and scrutinized the ruling from front to back.  The implication that a law is legal if it is considered a tax and can be touted as a penalty for not performing a public function will have far reaching repercussions.  Want to limit the number of kids a family can have?  How about implementing a one child tax?  Want to stop people from driving so much?  How about an escalating vehicle tax?  The more vehicles you own the higher taxes will be.  Agriculture and Jay Leno beware.

Another case which will have a significant impact is one that no one has heard about.  It was an effort lead by a coalition of groups, of which Farm Bureau was a part, to get the 2009 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) endangerment finding for carbon dioxide overturned.  The Circuit Court for the District of Columbia found that the EPA endangerment finding was supported by “substantial evidence” and was not inconsistent with the Clean Air Act.  This means EPA is obligated to promulgate its tailpipe rule despite EPA’s admission that the rule would only reduce temperatures by tenths to thousandths of a degree by 2100.  The cost of this process will be significant.

Another recent development with EPA is their continued support of the use of flyovers of agriculture operations to identify whether they are complying with animal feeding operation rules.  The Agency reiterated its authority to do so after Nebraska politicians questioned whether the Agency had the necessary authority to do these types of activities.  I suppose it was inevitable the Agency would move towards this type of surveillance since we have heard that EPA employees will drive down roads looking for operations which possibly violate some of their rules.

On top of all of this we are starting to see bigger and hotter fires on the national forest as a result of dry conditions, hot weather and thirty years of law suits to keep trees from being harvested.  We have seen a few from the environmental movement try to point the blame elsewhere, but in testimony before Congress in 2009 Dr. Peter Kolb from Montana State pointed out that one of the major stress factors for trees is crowding.  Dr. Kolb points out that in Europe where they have been managing their forests for over 2,000 years, they have maintained forest productivity and have greatly limited catastrophic disturbances including bark beetle outbreaks.

Currently with hundreds of thousands of acres of dead and dying trees the Forest Service finds itself in a position of only being able to utilize one management tool to any degree and that is fire.  Unfortunately, when it is as hot and dry as it has been and the number of acres that have died are as large, then that tool can be one of the most dangerous tools in the tool box.  It’s too bad that these trees could not have been harvested 30 years ago so that we would have at least had some 2×4’s to show for it instead of smoke.

Perhaps we will eventually learn, like they apparently already have in Europe, that non-management of our trees doesn’t benefit anyone.  Unfortunately, the scale of the problem today doesn’t allow for us to bring to bear any of the more useful tools even if there was the political will to change the laws that locked the Forest Service into a perpetual forest management cage of lawsuits.

By Ken Hamilton, Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Executive Vice President

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