Exploiting tragedy

Posted: Thursday, August 09, 2001

The following editorial appeared in Sunday's edition of the Wenatchee (Wash.) World:

The Endangered Species Act kills. It killed four firefighters in the Methow Valley July 10. At least, that's the politically loaded conclusion we are being led to make, pushed by partisan politicians in Washington, D.C.

Rep. Scott McInnis, a Colorado Republican and chairman of the House subcommittee overseeing the Forest Service, unveiled the accusation Tuesday. A water drop on the smoldering Thirtymile Fire near Winthrop was delayed for hours, he said, as officials pondered endangered species protections and the potential repercussions of dipping a giant bucket in the protected Chewuch River. That afternoon the fire exploded and trapped the unlucky firefighters, who died in their emergency shelters as the flames swept over them.

There is some truth in the details. There was a delay in the water drop because of confusion over what is allowed by federal rules. But the delay was just a mistake, a misunderstanding. Nothing in the Endangered Species rules forbade the water drop. Whether this delay contributed in any way to the deaths of the firefighters is speculation. Implying their lives would have been spared in absence of Endangered Species rules is simply political exploitation of a great tragedy. ...

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