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W is for Warming, Wildfires, and Wisdom

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
July 10, 2002

 

"The world, an entity out of everything, was created by neither god or men, but was, is, and will be eternally living fire, regularly becoming ignited and regularly becoming extinguished." — Heraclitus

"Nature bats last" is a saying popular among environmentalists and bumper sticker philosophers. Although obvious to the point of triteness, most Americans refuse to accept the fact there are elemental forces, which take no notice of humanity, or it's attempts at permanence. Recently the airwaves have been emblazoned with the reminder of how fire is an innate member of the southwestern community.

As I write this, fire is raging through 7 western states. From North Dakota to Southern New Mexico, flames are having their way with locales both wild and residential. Dangerous conditions, ranging between very high to extreme, in Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota suggest a tense and troubling fire season. In the Northeast excessive heat and humidity are creating adverse conditions such as smog alerts and power outages. Drought stricken and drying, the country is experiencing a preview of things to come as global warming begins to make itself known.

Now, before readers begin to grumble about the "myth of global warming," please note that on June 3rd, 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency presented the United Nations, under the Framework Convention on Climate Change, its "Climate Action Report 2002," linking an increase in global warming to human activities in the United States. Not surprising, the White House is distancing itself from its own report. Such behavior is to be expected from a president praised for his simple ways. But I digress.

Fire is a natural part of North American biology, with many species depending on periodic burns for their continued survival by removing under brush and returning nutrients to the soil. Free of messy considerations such as ethics and economic responsibilities, fires do nothing more than what they have done since the ancestors of Homosapiens contemplated coming down out of the trees.

Ecological balance takes many forms, this time human nature, mixed with conditions both natural and unnatural has only added to the impact. The fires currently being fought by hardworking men and women are a result of dry conditions, lightning, an injured hiker, Leonard Gregg, a 29 year old Apache Indian who was a part time employee of the Bureau of Indian Affairs' forestry department,forestry technician Terry Lynn Barton, and a century of mismanagement by the U.S. Forest Service. Paradoxically, Barton started the Hayman fire while patrolling the forest to enforce a fire ban.

Within the context of this column space, it seems only fitting that George W. Bush, would be using the opportunity to blame environmentalists for the infernos that claimed more than 618 structures, including homes, in Colorado, 400 homes in Arizona, and considerable amounts of forest habitat.

In reality, these forests have been managed exclusively for timber industry profits with the result of old growth fire-resistant trees being cut down and shipped to the timber mills only to be replaced with the dense and combustible tree farms favored by logging companies. Driven my profit margins, fires have been suppressed because they were viewed to be dangerous to the timber industry, unfortunately those same government sanctioned polices have proven to be equally catastrophic.

Wise stewardship of forests and other wild spaces is needed if biodiversity is to be preserved in North America, and western communities protected from the ravages of over-fueled fires and unenlightened forest service staff. Needed are government officials willing to include biocentric perspectives in the formation of forest policy, and those able to factor in more than just board feet and the utilitarian bottom line into the decision making process.

Also needed are wise governmental policies that favor innovation regarding the construction of homes planned for rural and "at risk" communities. Designing homes in such a way as to survive wildfires should be required by municipalities and insurance agencies, doing so would not only save money, both public and private, it would also save lives. Granted this might cut into Forest Service timber sales, but then again the forest service should not be in the logging business.

Of course one can hardly expect wisdom to be, in any way, associated with the George W. Bush and his shortsighted policies regarding nature, natural resources, and environmental understanding.

With George Jr. in charge, W also stands for; wishing things were different, wondering if old growth forests stand a chance, and waiting for the inevitable task of ecological triage and clean up after Gale Norton and corporate jihad known as forest management.

 
 
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