Biden Wildfire Scorecard No. 3

The Agriculture Secretary oversees a $146 billion annual budget. Most of it – 65 percent - is allocated to food and nutrition programs that target the needy. Five percent goes to “forestry,” mainly the U.S. Forest Service and mostly – about 55 percent – to battle forest fires.

Jim Petersen -
3 MINUTE READ
Biden Wildfire Scorecard No. 3

With President Biden’s climate change agenda on a collision course with the West’s wildfire pandemic, I can only imagine that the President has Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, on speed dial from the Oval Office.

The Agriculture Secretary oversees a $146 billion annual budget. Most of it – 65 percent - is allocated to food and nutrition programs that target the needy. Five percent goes to “forestry,” mainly the U.S. Forest Service and mostly – about 55 percent – to battle forest fires.

The shrinking remainder of the Forest Service’s shriveling $5.345 billion budget goes to the management side where, theoretically at least, it is used to address the underlying causes of the wildfire pandemic that is sweeping the West. About $510 million.

The President must have been horrified by the latest Congressional Research Service wildfire statistics published January 4. Given that the U.S. Forest Service is part of Secretary Vilsack’s kingdom, he surely drew the short straw when it came time to deliver the bad news. The conversation probably went something like this:

Secretary Vilsack: Good afternoon, Mr. President. Thanks for fitting me into your busy schedule. I know you have a lot on your plate.

President Biden: Tom, we always have time for you in the Oval Office. What’s on your mind?

Secretary Vilsack: Well sir, the latest Congressional Research Service report concerning the western wildfire crisis has me thinking it will be very difficult for you to reach your climate change goals until we regain control of these wildfires.

President Biden: Oh my, that’s not good, Tom. Is this report accurate or just more Republican propaganda designed to hurt our climate change agenda?

Secretary Vilsack: It’s very accurate, sir. CRS is a non-partisan research service. It works for Congress. It’s part of the Library of Congress.

President Biden: Is there anything we can do to quickly turns things around? We promised our progressives that we would deal very aggressively with carbon polluters.

Secretary Vilsack: I know, Mr. President. But it turns out that our federal forests in the western United States are probably the biggest air polluters, especially during wildfire seasons that now last six to eight months a year. To make matters worse, most of these big fires start in federal forests that haven’t been very well managed for 30 years. We have billions of dead and dying trees in these forests. They are what is fueling these awful fires.

President Biden: How did that happen? Aren’t these forests part of our national heritage?

Secretary Vilsack: They absolutely are, Mr. President, but as I told you when we talked two weeks ago, many of your most loyal supporters on the east and west coasts oppose removing dead and dying trees from our national forests. They think we should leave these forests in nature’s hands – meaning no human effort to quell the wildfire risk.

President Biden: Is there anything we can do quickly to get back on track?

Secretary Vilsack: We could make science-based forest restoration in national forests one of the centerpieces in our climate change agenda, but right now no one over at Climate is even talking about it. Our focus on wind and solar power and electric cars is great, and so is our renewed focus on environmental justice but these big wildfires have are the 500 pound elephant standing in the room that no one wants to discuss.

President Biden: What’s this science-based forest restoration all about?

Secretary Vilsack: Congress has passed several laws – many of them imbedded in the 2018 Farm Bill – that give the Forest Service the authority to tackle the problem with the help of states and counties where the big fires burn annually, but for political reasons, the Forest Service has been reluctant to do much for fear of angering the back-to-nature crowd. That leaves us with an untenable and very unhealthy wildfire smoke problem

President Biden: A smoke problem?

Secretary Vilsack: Yes, Mr. President. The chemicals in wildfire smoke add significantly to the carbon buildup in the air we breathe and they’re carcinogenic. It’s not good.

President Biden: And this starts with inaction by the Forest Service?

Secretary Vilsack: Yes, Mr. President, the Forest Service.

President Biden: The same Forest Service that’s on your watch?

Secretary Vilsack: Yes, Mr. President, that Forest Service.

President Biden: Thanks for stopping by Tom. I trust you can get this resolved quickly. Nothing can stand in the way of our climate change agenda, especially our own people. The last thing we need is for this smoke thing to bite our environmental justice folks in the butt.

Secretary Vilsack: Thanks for seeing me, Mr. President. Here’s a copy of the CRS report.

President Biden: Thanks, Tom. Have a great day.