BUSH THE FIRE FIGHTER [OR, WHY ARE THE LUMBER BOSSES GRINNING?] HUNTERBEAR 8/22/02
I've fought a lot of Western forest fires -- and done
a fair amount of
remote Western fire lookout work. I know my way around the Bush -- the Real
Bush -- and have since I was hatched.
George Bush's just-unveiled panacea vis-a-vis the Forest Fire Crisis would
be cause for the first hearty laughs in this country for the better part of
the previous year -- if it weren't all so potentially and hideously tragic.
Essentially, what he's doing is moving to make it much, much easier for the
lumber companies to cut more and more Western timber. His rationale --
thinner than the wings of the green maggot-laying blow flies of the Western
yellow pine forests -- is that substantially increased lumbering will
drastically reduce fire damage.
This has to be the biggest accumulation of Cow Stuff that I've seen since
the vast and ancient on-going stockyards of Norfolk, Nebraska.
I come from the general Flagstaff, Arizona setting. That has, among other
economic foundational dimensions, one of the largest stands of Ponderosa
Yellow Pine in the West. The two major lumber companies of yore in that
region -- Southwest Lumber Mills [now Southwest Forest Industries] and
Saginaw Manistee [long absorbed by Southwest] -- both cut a lot of timber in
those days via a relatively liberal interpretation of the USFS sustained
yield [selective cutting] policies. But most of the forest, fortunately in
very rugged country indeed, was physically out of reach of the lumber
companies -- and always will be. And, in the wake of the cutting that did
occur and does, there's still a great deal of logging waste but, even more
to the point, there are always the countless young pines -- jack pines --
and the other growth that inevitably develops quickly and pervasively.
Tree-pruning -- daily Forest Service crew cutting of some limbs from
developing pines -- always struck most of us as a kind of "made work" to
keep fire-fighting labor on ready tap. This [something I fortunately
avoided] had no fire fighting focus -- but was ostensibly designed to create
a better lumber tree. In any case, it's always very minor in scope.
The only difference the Bush proposals will make is to cut down much more
adult timber than is now permitted -- and that'll primarily benefit the
lumber bosses. [It takes many decades for any Western tree to reach
maturity -- and it takes many many generations for a tree in the dry
Southwest to hit full growth.]
The Bush schemes will have no significantly positive impact on the forest
fire situation. True, some areas will be thinned but most of the forest
stands -- being in rough and rugged turf -- will be out of reach. In the
areas that are cut, brush and jackpine growth and logging leavings [it's
never a clean job] will present their own unique fire dangers pronto.
But Bush would give the totally false impression that he and his greenhorn
cohorts have the Western Fire Crisis under their firm control -- now and
forevermore. And that, obviously in the same vein they see their role in the
Whole Wide World, is Fantasy and just purely dangerous as Hell.
We had horrendous fires in Northern Arizona -- and relatively heavy logging
made no positive differences whatsoever in fire speed and spread. Unless
the whole forest is going to be cut to the ground -- and every jackpine
killed in its cradle -- timber cutting will make no significant difference.
What's needed is much more fire prevention and fire-fighting money to the
United States Forest Service [as well as National Park Service and Bureau
of Land Management]. In that context, many many more firefighters --
including substantial numbers on summer standby [let's resurrect the old,
voluntary and great Civilian Conservation Corps for unemployed American
youth]; much more extensive and realistic professional training for forest
fire combatants; massive up-grading of all fire-fighting equipment --
including air tankers and scout planes; many more fire lookout towers and
staff; renewed use of horses and mules; vastly increased fire prevention
education for the general public. Related measures that would be helpful
are the selective temporary and often permanent closing of forest roads to
private vehicular traffic -- and carefully controlled, periodic burns to
reduce brush and young trees in regions deemed unusually sensitive to
human-caused fires or in settings where human communities are especially
Taken at face value, the Bush fire prevention/combat schemes make the
Mississippi currency of 1864 look better than gold nuggets from the very
real Lost Adams Diggings [of somewhere in Western New Mexico or Eastern
Arizona.] But they would give much gold indeed -- literally -- to the Lumber
Always fighting -
Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´