T he federal government and state of Utah
have decided to sue the Boy Scouts of
America for $14 million to recover the costs of fighting a 2002 wildfire that members of one troop are suspected of inadvertently setting.
That smells suspiciously like scapegoating to us.
It’s not necessarily out of line for the government to hold people responsible for malicious or criminally negligent actions that result in wildfires. And the Boy Scouts, no doubt, make a tempting target for example-making, given their high national profile and deep pockets.
But if we really want to get serious about holding people accountable for the precarious, disease- and fire-prone state of our national forests, the search for likely culprits leads right back to the government’s door.
Perhaps we taxpayers, confronting the monumental costs, waste of resources and destruction of property resulting from the last three wildfire seasons, should be thinking about suing the federal government for the decades of mismanagement that helped create these deadly tinderbox conditions.
Smokey Bear himself could be dragged into court, put on the stand, and forced to recant his long involvement in a disinformation campaign and fire suppression policy that led directly to these explosive forest conditions.
We citizens might also, if we choose, bring claims of negligence against the government for the sometimes questionable manner in which its agencies have battled particular blazes.
But why stop there? While we’re looking for someone to turn into a defendant, why not bring suit against the anti-timber zealots who in recent decades have paralyzed the ability of federal land managers to deal with a looming forest health crisis?
If these groups have enough money to field an army of lawyers to oppose virtually every federal effort to actively manage the nation’s forests, they must have millions that could be used to cover the costs of dealing with the consequences of their systematic obstructionism.
By all means hold citizens responsible when their criminal recklessness results in forests going up in smoke. Let’s not do this selectively or opportunistically, however, by holding those with a higher profile or deeper pockets to a higher standard than everyone else.
We shouldn’t allow witch hunts to deflect public attention away from the wrong-headed policies, government personnel and special interest groups that helped create such combustible forest conditions in the first place.