Federal Fires | Buzz Blog

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Federal Fires

Posted By on September 2, 2009, 5:13 PM

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Utah Gov. Gary Herbert continues to shore up his credentials as a This Land Is Our Land leader.---

It started like many wildfires, as smoldering embers started by a lightning strike. The lightning was the Mill Flat fire, which was actually a wildfire started by lightning, and the embers were a comment by Herbert initially buried at the bottom of a Salt Lake Tribune story on Monday and basically ignored by other media outlets:

It appears the Forest Service started the fire. They should take responsibility.

By Tuesday, daily newspapers and TV stations latched on to Herbert's quote, with analysis pieces about Herbert's intent and his possible refusal of other federal money. They also sought response from the Forest Service and environmentalists, who disagreed that it was the management policies of federal wilderness that helped cause this fire.

Since his initial comment, Herbert has retreated somewhat, and has said he is really more interested in opening a dialog with federal officials. He is also not against the state pitching in to help with disasters they did not cause, spokeswoman Angie Welling said. But Herbert "philosophically" wants those accountable held responsible. In this case, that accountable entity is the Forest Service, and in other cases it may be state agencies or local governments.

There is a lot of problems with Herbert's statement, beginning with the fact it seemed to be unnecessary finger-pointing made from the gut, not the head. It also sets a bad precedent for future disasters caused by the state, since the feds can now shrug and tell the state to clean up their own messes. Finally, as many people have pointed out since his statement, there are a lot of holes in his assertion that the Forest Service caused it because of its fire management practices and wilderness policies.

Despite it all, Herbert will likely stick to his guns on this, because like global warming and gay rights, he believes what he believes even if common sense or basic humanity dictate otherwise. He has always been clear about his stands on wilderness and federal lands: they stink.

There is another, major benefit, however. By blaming fires, high gas prices, struggling farmers, and low education funding on federal ownership of lands, he is speaking gospel to many active Republicans, especially those from rural areas. So even though he may take a short-term beating because of his stance, come convention time next year this stand will be one of the most appealing aspects of his record as governor to those who will elect the next Utah governor: GOP state delegates.

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Josh Loftin

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