McInnis asking the tough questions |

McInnis asking the tough questions

This column is in response to the character assassination masquerading as a column written by Montanan Ben Long and printed in the Post Independent on Aug. 2. I couldn’t help but wonder why such an upstanding paper would print such slanderous nonsense, particularly from a person who couldn’t find Glenwood Springs on a map.

Here are some facts that Mr. Long conspicuously ignored:

First, Congressman Scott McInnis has never said that America’s army of environmental litigants are singularly responsible for this calamitous wildfire season, as Long suggests. He has, however, said that hyper-litigious environmental groups are guilty of boxing the Forest Service into a position of “analysis paralysis” that has markedly exacerbated the West’s wildfire epidemic.

According to the Forest Service, environmental groups have appealed over 50 percent of all mechanical thinning projects in the last two years, including 100 percent of these projects in Montana and Idaho, ole’ Ben’s neck of the woods.

As if these numbers weren’t proof positive, the reach of the appeals problem on the national forests was recently underscored when Sen.Tom Daschle slipped a provision into a defense spending bill that prohibits appeals or lawsuits on select thinning projects in his home state of South Dakota, which environmentalists had tied up for a decade. Mr. Long may not view environmental appeals as a problem, but the highest-ranking Democratic in the nation – Tom Daschle – obviously does.

Next, Long attacks Congressman McInnis’ efforts to get answers on the Thirtymile Fire, where four firefighters lost their lives. The congressman’s sensitivity on the issue of firefighter safety should be obvious to anyone from Glenwood Springs, making these statements particularly reckless.

In an Aug. 1, 2001, AP story, McInnis said, “I am very, very concerned. We need to find out if there was a delay putting resources on this fire because of the Endangered Species Act.” Hardly the irresponsible accusation that Mr. Long alleged.

A subsequent Forest Service investigation concluded that there was indeed a delay of nearly two hours in deploying water resources because “the river is a habitat for endangered fish species.” Later in that same report, investigators found, “There is no clear or consistent process on the forest for helicopter bucket operations with respect to endangered species issues in relation to fire suppression operations,” and, “The District AFMO and ultimately the Okanogan Dispatcher were unclear on the appropriate course of action to take, delaying the release of the helicopter.”

This event has led the Forest Service and other agencies to clarify that Endangered Species Act requirements should never delay or stop an action needed to protect human life. McInnis dropped a bill to do the same thing in more patently unambiguous terms.

Finally, upon learning that federal biologists had knowingly falsified evidence in conjunction with the national lynx survey, Congressman McInnis asked the Department of Interior and others to investigate. In response, the Interior’s Inspector General uncovered “a pattern of bad judgment, an absence of scientific rigor and several troubling policy issues. In addition, parts of the story told by the Fish and Wildlife Service biologists involved stretch credulity.”

The General Accounting Office and the Forest Service reached virtually the same conclusion. This information might have helped Mr. Long paint a more complete and accurate picture, but then again, that wasn’t the point, was it Ben?

Unfortunately for shameless green shills like Mr. Long, the facts demonstrate that Scott McInnis asked the tough questions and got answers in each of these important instances. That’s what members of Congress are elected to do. That might make Ben Long and others of his wild-eyed ilk uncomfortable, but I say, who cares?

Joshua Penry is the staff director for the U.S. House Resources, Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, of which Rep. McInnis is the chairman.

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