Since it’s rise, driven by the largesse of callous oligarchs, one can’t help but think of the “some men just want to watch the world burn” line from The Dark Knight when discussing the Tea Party. This new-look GOP’s approach to fiscal policy and legislating has all the grace of arson.

Now, it appears, according to Reuters, that Republicans’ refusal to fund federal programs backed by book learnin’ and science has, ahem, poured fuel on the wildfire in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Ironically, what’s being neglected here is the financing for controlled burns endorsed by the Obama administration.

The projects, which were approved by the U.S. Forest Service but never funded by Congress, would have thinned the woods in about 25 square miles (65 square km) in the Groveland District of the Stanislaus National Forest, much of which was incinerated by the Rim Fire


The wildfire is the sixth-largest on record in California. It burned over 220,000 acres (89,000 hectares) over the past two weeks while penetrating Yosemite National Park and threatening to befoul the Hetch Hetchy reservoir providing the lion’s share of water to San Francisco


“This is a colossal unfunded backlog of critically important fuel reduction work,” said John Buckley, executive director of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center and a former Forest Service fire fighter. The projects “would have inarguably made the Rim Fire far easier to contain, far less expensive and possibly not even a major disaster.”

Oh dear. And it’s not just government bureaucrats and enviro-NGOs that have bemoaned this lack of appropriations for these preventative measures.

Mike Albrecht, co-owner of the logging company Sierra Resource Management, which operates on public land in the Sierra Nevada mountains said that the backlogged projects would likely have helped limit the Rim Fire.

The “one-two punch” of thinning the forest through logging and prescribed burns is essential for stemming the tide of catastrophic wildfires across the American West, he said.

So surely even Republicans representing districts near the inferno – those who want to do right by local business concerns — might come out in support of increased funding for prescribed burns? Apparently not. Congressman Tom McClintock “a third-term conservative Republican in whose district the Rim Fire has burned” says he’s skeptical of their utility.

More dire than a backlog of Forest Service controlled burns, McClintock says, is the precipitous, 25-year decline in logging of bigger, money-making trees on public lands.

“If we were harvesting the same amount of timber we once did, we’d have fewer fires but also a revenue stream for the treatment of many thousands of acres (hectares) that we’re not treating today,” he said.

Some men just want to watch the world not burn at first and then burn a lot.

Samuel Knight

Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.