Everyone has followed the struggle in Congress about the budget ceiling, the national budget and the national debt.

The California state government is a smaller version of the federal government, counties and cities are smaller and special districts are smaller yet. However, all of these levels of government are struggling with the same fiscal problem. Do we as a country try to maintain the same level of government service by increasing our revenue stream (taxes) or should we cut government spending without raising taxes and accept a lower level of service.

Many citizens would like the country to do a little of both but I don’t want to get wrapped around the axle on this debate because that’s not what I want to write about!

The federal government has already issued “budget advice” to its agencies and some are already proposing cuts for the next fiscal year. The classic question when you cut budgets is what do we cut? Many in both major political parties agree that “pork barrel” (earmarks) projects must go. No more bridge to nowhere projects!

The problem is that there were good earmarks that did great things and the people of this mountain were the recipients of those throughout the last decade. The San Bernardino National Forest (SBNF) and National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) had their budgets augmented with earmarks sponsored by Representative Jerry Lewis (R-San Bernardino) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California).

During the last decade, dead trees were removed, old fuelbreaks were re-cut, highways were made safe enough to be used as escape routes and large parcels of private land were abated. But the decade is over, the money is gone, the major work has stopped and the word “earmark” is poison in congress.

So, were the millions of dollars invested in abatement on this mountain worth it?

In June, the Wallow Fire in Arizona burned approximately 547,000 acres. Five communities were burned through or around by the fire, which was fanned by 20 to 60 miles per hour winds for five solid days. Amazingly, fewer than 100 buildings were destroyed. How was that possible?

After the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski Fire in Arizona (462,000 acres and approximately 600 buildings burned), the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, the San Carlos Indian Reservation and the Fort Apache Indian Reservation embarked on a program of selective logging, fuels reduction and private property abatement through the formation of fire safe councils. A huge amount of money was spent over the last decade in their forests and on private land (sound familiar?) to make sure there was never another Rodeo-Chediski Fire.

Well, they didn’t prevent the fire but their hard work managed to change the results. The timber loss was minimized because crown fires could not be sustained in the thinned portion of the forest. Most homes were saved because they were properly abated and the treated timber stands near the homes could not sustain the crown fire.

The firefighters and the public got a chance to see the amazing results of a decade’s worth of collaborative work by government agencies in a place similar to the San Jacinto Mountains.

So again, when we cut government, what do we cut?

Editor’s note: Chief Walker will be discussing his experience and first-hand observations of the Wallow Fire next Tuesday, Aug. 23 at 9:30 a.m. at the Idyllwild Fire Station. His presentation will be a part of the Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council board meeting.