When Governor Schwarzenegger visited South Lake Tahoe recently, he said we shouldn't point our fingers about the people responsible because the fire crews were still in the midst of bringing the fire under control, Well, the fire (Thank You, Lord!) is now under control, our preliminary investigation is complete and so it's time to take the gloves off.
Any property owner in Lake Tahoe will tell you how schizophrenic, divided, and dangerous the federal, state, and local governmental bureaucracies have become. Last month, we found out how truly dangerous their results can be. With the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency at first encouraging and now requiring the use of ground covers such as dry bark mulch and pine needles to prevent erosion and at the same time severely limiting defensible space around your dwelling to a scant ten yards, you can see how the government miserably failed to protect the people. You might remember the Tahoe local who refused to abide by T.R.P.A. regulations and cleared the defensible space to around 33 yards, more than three times the limit. His home still stands. He exemplifies the idea promoted by Governor Schwarzenegger who said a homeowner should be able to protect his private property as he sees fit. If this unsound, unsafe, and unwise regulation was the only danger facing Tahoe, we'd be well on our way to solving it on our own. Friends, neighbors, and acquaintances tell me they are already creating more defensible space around their homes--the T.R.P.A. be damned.
And let's not forget the Minden, Nevada air tanker that remained idle as Tahoe burned that day. At a mere 15 minutes away it would have saved countless homes and dollars. Instead, a full 50 minutes after the 9-1-1 call came in, the Sierra Front Inter-Agency Dispatch Center (in Minden, Nevada!) called up two air tankers from Reno, Nevada, more than 30 minutes away. Incredibly, the agency says their actions stem from Congress' close scrutiny of money and spending! I don't know about you, but I haven't found any evidence, EVER, of this close scrutiny.
The Tahoe region has also suffered from another turf battle over thinning out the forest canopy. Again, rather than working to protect and serve the people, agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and the T.R.P.A., work tirelessly to feather their own nests and protect and serve their own bureaucratic turf. This produces tragedy. While the T.R.P.A. tells homeowners to clear away pine needles, brush, and small trees to create the vital "defensible space," the U.S. Forest Service controls immense areas of thickly-wooded sections where crowds of small trees and underbrush create fuel ladders for fires to race to the tops of the big trees and jump hundreds of feet. On Lookout Point Circle, where all the homes burned to the ground, the adjoining forest was "grossly overstocked," according to fire inspectors. A spokesperson for the Lake Valley Fire Protection District says property owners who had cleared a defensible space around their homes lost them anyway because their neighbors didn't bother adding, "You're only as safe as your neighbor." But what do you do when your dangerous neighbor next door is the federal government?
Finally, we have the government's fuels reduction project that was left unfinished a few years back. Hundreds of slash piles 6' tall, 8'-10' in diameter and less than 40' apart had been drying out for at least three years. When the fire reached the slash piles upwind of the Mule Deer area, they exploded into flames igniting and then taking out the entire neighborhood. It is a crime for the government to have let these hundreds of piles of tinderbox kindling accumulate in residential areas for years.
Where does this leave us? Well, citizens have to become more vigilant to the dangers of all of our government's bureaucracies. Unwise, vague, and slow-acting bureaucrats neither protect nor serve us. Until and unless we change the way we do things, all of us will live under a system that endangers us more and more every day. As President Reagan said, "Government is not the solution. Government is the problem."