Skip to comments.Endangered Species Act puts Firefighters At Risk
Posted on 02/26/2002 3:37:49 PM PST by Bowana
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a statement on Friday February 8th blaming the U.S. Forest Service for willfully disregarding the safety of firefighters in the 30 mile fire that broke out in Washington State's Okanogan National Forest last year. The statement echoed the Forest Services own report that claimed that the fire managers violated 10 of the basic safety rules of fire fighting and ignored 10 out of the 18 basic warning signs for danger. These were all factors that resulted in the deaths of four forest firefighters, but the report seemed to have left out one of the most important factors in the deaths and that is the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Fourteen firefighters and two campers were trapped in the Chewuch River canyon and conflicting reports state that the firefighters requested a water drop somewhere between two and nine hours before the fire took the lives of four of the firefighters. Two hours or nine hours really means nothing in the scheme of things, what matters is that there was a delay in delivering this water drop because the Chewuch River contains endangered species such as steelhead, salmon and bull trout. The problem arose when the fire managers wanted to get authority to withdraw water from the river.
According to spokesmen for the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who are responsible for the endangered fish, neither agency is required to be notified of water removal in such a case. In 1995 the US Fish and Wildlife Service released a memorandum stating that firefighter safety comes first. The hesitation that occurred in getting this water may very well be understandable. The headlines over the last year have brought the ESA under question on other issues, and the power that it has over United States Citizens.
Last year in Klamath Falls Oregon, a drought had caused the levels of the Upper Klamath Lake to become dangerously low. Dangerous for the farms that depended on the water for irrigation and dangerous for the endangered sucker fish that lives there. When it came to governmental policy between sucker fish or farmers, the sucker fish won out. In the early 1900's the government wanted to homestead the area around Klamath Falls and enticed people to settle and farm there with the promise of water for their crops. The promise to supply water came in the form of the Reclamation Act of 1902. The government kept this promise and continued to keep it even after the introduction of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, but this promise and the new legislation were destined to collide and last year they did.
The Government shut off the water at Klamath Falls to over fourteen hundred farming families in the Klamath basin. This news didn't make big headlines in the mainstream media but the battle for water rights in Klamath Falls was big news to those who care more about Human Rights then Animal Rights. The ESA brought forth by Animal Rights activists to give their cause the force of law is based on good intentions, but many roads are paved with good intentions, and that may be a road that we don't want to go down.
Some of the people in these animal rights groups who pushed for this legislation have some warped opinions on life in general. Take Ingrid Newkirk, the co-founder of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who believes that "A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy." A Reuter's news reporter recently asked Newkirk her opinion on Europe's Hoof and Mouth Disease and she stated "I openly hope that it comes here. It will bring economic harm only for those who profit from giving people heart attacks and giving animals a concentration camp-like existence. It would be good for animals, good for human health and good for the environment."
A vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, Michael Fox, wrote in his book, The Inhumane Society, "The life of an ant and the life of my child should be accorded equal respect." Then after the attacks of September 11th, Mr. Fox blames these attacks on Human crimes against nature. In an article last December he wrote "Our collective violence against nature and against human nature, from the plight of endangered cultures, wildlife and the environment, to the sufferings of indigenous peoples and of domestic animals, especially in factory farms and commercial laboratories around the world, needs to be acknowledged. Until we find atonement with nature and all beings, human and nonhuman, how can human nature find peace and not annihilate all that our better natures embrace?"
Another member of PETA, Bruce Friedrick, speaking at the 2001 Animal Rights Conference said that although he doesn't blow things up "I do advocate it, and I think it's a great way to bring about animal liberation." He goes on to say that He "thought it would be a great thing if all these fast food outlets, slaughterhouses, laboratories, and banks that fund them exploded tomorrow". These are the kinds of people that pushed for a law where Human Rights have taken a back seat to Animal Rights. When we allow a law to protect animals to keep a family from running their family farm or telling a United States citizen what they can and can't do with their own land, then where do we draw the line?
These kinds of attacks against Human Rights gave those fire managers reason to pause and question whether they had the authority to take water and save those firefighters. Not remembering a Fish and Wildlife Service memo from six years earlier, these fire managers thought they needed higher authority to get water from a river that supported endangered species. It is lawsuits filed by these Animal Rights groups and statements like the one's quoted above that caused these fire managers to hesitate, making those firefighters the real endangered species. It took the lives of these fallen heroes to bring the power of the Endangered Species Act into question.
Are the other issues of mismanagement, mistakes, and poor training partly to blame for the tragedy? Of course they are and they should be addressed, but with out a doubt, the delay in getting that water drop had a lot to do with the death of those firefighters. One firefighter, Ellreese Daniels, a 24-year veteran, who escaped is quoted as saying that ""If we'd had the water when we'd asked for it, none of this would have happened," When the water did arrive, it was too late to be useful, he said.
For OSHA to completely ignore this aspect of what happened is a shame. One of the Forest Service's findings is to "Clarify the relationship between the Endangered Species Act and fire suppression actions to establish a coherent process that accounts for ESA requirements with respect to the full range of fire suppression activities." Luckily the Forest Service recognizes this problem and is trying to address it. It seems that OSHA is a government organization that is just looking out for it's own.
OSHA News Release:
News Release USDA Forest Service:
Forest Service Blamed for Deaths By LINDA ASHTON Associated Press Writer:
Terrorism & the American Way by Michael W. Fox, D.V.M.:
Not just an endangered species issue Klamath's 100-Year Misunderstanding By John A. Charles:
Bruce Friedrick at the 2001 Animal Rights Conference: