Press "Enter" to skip to content

Pine Beetles, False Dilemmas, and the Need to Read

Last updated on 2012.09.08

Dakota War College offers another lesson in logical fallacies, this time in the classic false dilemma. The fake-named GOP establishment blog contends that Senator Tim Johnson's hesitance to endorse legislation proposed by Senator John Thune and Rep. Kristi Noem to combat pine beetle infestations means that the senior senator wants the Black Hills to burn down.

This false dilemma resembles the GOP-flackery floated by flailing proponents of Governor Daugaard's HB 1234 who say that if you don't back their preferred legislation, you must back a failing status quo. On education policy and on pine beetle policy, Republicans ignore the logical possibility of recognizing the need for action while still recognizing the need to weigh the pros and cons of any one proposal against other proposals.

Read the text of Senator Thune's National Forest Emergency Response Act (S. 2277—Rep Noem's H.R. 4331 is identical), and you'll see why any reader might hesitate to immediately jump on board. For one thing, the bill doesn't just address pine beetle infestations; it opens up forests affected by "pine beetle infestation, drought, disease, or storm damage" to emergency declarations. The bill exempts "any remedial action or... timber sale" performed under the emergency rules from any "restraining order, preliminary injunction, or injunction pending appeal," a seemingly remarkable removal of checks on executive power.

My Republican friends like to rib us Dems over Rahm Emanuel's oft-cited advice about not letting a crisis go to waste. But the content of S. 2277 suggests that Senator Thune and Rep. Noem are following that advice exactly and trying to do much more than simply addressing the pine beetle problem at hand.

The proposed deregulations are also filled with the unannotated cross-references to existing statute that justify Senator Johnson and any other responsible reader's saying, "Hold on: before I say I'll vote for this bill, I need to read all the other laws it cites and changes and make sure I'm not missing some trick."

Larry Kurtz pointed me toward the bill text; he's already sure Thune and Noem are more worried about boosting Big Timber, not engaging in effective pine beetle management. Kurtz, who knows more about the forest than DWC, me, and all of our commenters combined, blasts the GOP approach and proposes the following solution:

Beetle-killed Ponderosa pine is substantially lighter than green timber, for one thing. That the youngest trees need to go is number two. Logging companies want the legacy trees that need to stay: number three. The Forest Service is broken: four.

It's not a beetle problem or even a money problem: it's a water problem. Preserve the legacy pine, select cut everything else, convert it to fuel, and burn to encourage aspen to begin the process of healing the living water/rock that is the Black Hills [Larry Kurtz, "Earth Haters Won't Fix the Black Hills," interested party, 2012.04.13].

By Republican logic, I should be able to demand that Senator Johnson endorse Kurtz's approach or stand guilty of advocating fiery death for all of us living things in and around the Black Hills. (Wow: this talk of fiery death sounds like the debate over building a new gym in Madison last year!) But logically, Senator Johnson reserves the right to read all proposals thoroughly, measure advantages and disadvantages, and cast an informed vote.

* * *
p.s. on piddling around: If we really are in a pine beetle emergency, Senator Thune and Rep. Noem aren't really acting like it. Instead of pushing for immediate, focused action, Thune and Noem are planning to tuck their pine beetle legislation away in the Farm Bill, which may take a while to formulate and which will mask debate on the specifics of this proposal. If pine beetles are an urgent problem, and if Thune and Noem have a good solution, they should be able to propose it now and push it through Congress on its own merits.


  1. larry kurtz 2012.04.16

    A lawsuit has stopped logging on a section of Custer National Forest near Ashland, Montana because of the FS not being able to afford to do due data diligence on mandated Environmental Impact Statements.

    Weirdly enough: the basis for GOP policy appeared in the Montana Standard, a Lee newspaper with a craving for cheap newsprint in an era when only the oldest voters rely on dead trees for the latest updates on Paul Ryan's biblical revelations.

    Privatization of public services is an ALEC tactic: just say no.

  2. tonyamert 2012.04.16

    Just a comment on the pine beetle situation. We're well past the point of trying to combat them. They aren't localized. They are everywhere.

    On my longer rides into the deeper areas of the hills that aren't accessible by heavy machinery you see them as well. We're just going to have to let nature run its course at this point and in the future allow for more logging to thin out the forest to prevent the rapid population explosion that we are currently seeing. Or just do vastly more controlled burns. I can't remember where I read this but there is good evidence that the hills use to burn regularly. Our fire prevention strategy is the change that has by and large lead to this problem.

  3. grudznick 2012.04.16

    I've read often about how the hills used to run regularly (usually with references to Custer's visit in 1874 that despite my looks I was not, NOT I say, a part of.)

    Cut trees, cut them cut them cut them.
    Or let people's homes and businesses burn and try and minimize the loss of human life.
    And shoot kitties, shoot them shoot them shoot them. That too is what they did in the old days.

  4. Stan Gibilisco 2012.04.16

    "I can’t remember where I read this but there is good evidence that the hills use to burn regularly."

    Yes, I read stories that told of how, in dry summers long ago, the natives could often see, from many miles away, a glow in the sky over the hills. That glow resulted from massive fires. Maybe that, along with the fantastic darkness that builds on thunderstorm days over the hills, as well as the frequent lightning strikes and huge snows, had something to do with the notion that this place ought to be reserved for the spirits. No place for people to build stick houses like mine.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.16

    Whoa, Larry: choke off funding, causing the Forest Service to be unable to conduct its due diligence, then push deregulation as a response to Forest Service inaction? What a devious plan!

    Tony: I hadn't fully considered the inaccessibility aspect... although on that trip around Pactola Easter weekend, I wondered just how they could get trucks in to access some of those trees. Are there maps that show just how much of the forest is accessible to loggers? I can live with cutting trees... but how many can we cut? If there are large inaccessible swaths, I would assume we could just let them burn... but we'd have to have big firebreaks to protect the accessible (i.e., dotted with cabins) areas.

    As Larry notes in his original blog post, we also have to make sure the loggers are doing the right cutting. Are they taking out the young growth, too? Or are they just taking the profitable wood and leaving the forest set up for another infestation in a couple decades?

    And back to Larry: great link! Historic mean fire interval of 16 years, compared to a fire-free period of 104 years after settlement. What a mess!

Comments are closed.