By: (Doug Flaherty) TahoeSierraCleanAir.Org
“The public should be outraged,” stated one Sierra Nevada Air Pollution Control Officer regarding increasing pollution from prescribed burns, pile burns and out of control agency “managed” fires that are occurring across the Sierra Nevada and the nation.
Agency-created burns produce massive amounts of toxic air pollution, in favor of the half science of “forest health” over clean air and human health. We are all suffering under the guise that agency created toxic burn smoke affects only adults and children sensitive to smoke; the truth is that toxic burn smoke adversely affects us all.
Local, state and federal burn agencies routinely burn public natural resources and pollute entire regions with impunity, while our politicians, U.S. EPA, and State Air Pollution Control Boards turn a blind eye. Smoke management plans are often inadequate and fail without consequence; county level Air Pollution Control Officers have little power to compel state and federal burn agencies to put the fires out.
Agency “managed”, “prescribed” and “pile” burns unleash billions of tons of particulate matter, black carbon, phosphorus, carbon dioxide, mercury, PM10, PM 2.5 and other toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, which eventually find their way into all lungs, adult’s and children’s alike, the ozone, pets, wildlife and snowmelts. Smoke has been implicated in lake algae growth.
How many millions will be spent on healthcare associated with a predicted respiratory disease endemic in the impacted regions as a result of unchecked and unmonitored agency burns?
The public is unaware that burn agencies do not always suppress fires; instead, they routinely “manage” burn opportunities. Federal and interagency burn managers follow the “Guidance for Implementation of Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy, dated February 2009,” allowing them to actually grow and steer fires, without regard to toxic smoke health effects.
The 4 month Soberanes Fire near Monterey, CA was a “managed” burn. While structures were protected, the fire was purposely steered and grown by interagency burn managers through minimal deployment of resources, resulting in massive California and Nevada air pollution.
Burn managers decided to “manage” the Yosemite Rim Fire rather than suppress it. Agencies burned 257,314 acres of our treasured national park allowing the fire to smolder, emitting toxic particles into the air for nearly 12 months, choking the lungs of residents and visitors in the Sierra Nevada and Lake Tahoe.
“Managed” fires are often misreported to the public as wildfires. Burn agencies blame global warming, with an underlying threat of more wildfires to come if fuels reduction and suppression budgets are not increased and approved each year.
Burning Before Logging
A “managed” burn that has wiped out the spotted owl and other endangered animals, plants and insects leaves nothing to protect, opening the door for logging contractors. Both the Yosemite Rim Fire and King Fire in CA resulted in substantial logging contracts after months of “managed” burning.
Recent emails from a retired USFS employee suggest internal job promotions serve as a reward for USFS supervisors who undertook “managed” burns resulting in logging contracts.
With massive agency “managed” burns, post-burn logging contracts, and slash pile burning, the USFS, BLM and state agencies are generating toxic air pollution and catastrophic destruction of our natural resources and protected wildlife on an unprecedented and epic scale.
Burn agencies downplay the importance of fire prevention replacing it with “prepare” rather than “prevent”. They report agency created “managed” burns as uncontrollable wildfires. This suggests that prevention is futile and creates fear among politicians, citizens and the insurance industry. Not surprisingly, insurance rates have skyrocketed.
We Can Stop the Smoke
Public burn agencies are polluters, pure and simple. They ignore public health in favor of their “must burn” paradigm. They need to be held accountable under current US EPA Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and increased local, state and federal regulations.
Elected officials at local, state and federal levels must stop managed burns, provide regulatory oversight and aggressively support alternatives to burning. Congress should require 50% of any federal fuels management funding be spent on “chip as you go” policies, natural gas grinding and other technologies as well as real time public health air monitoring.