The Mountain West as pictured by the European immigrants in the days of Lewis and Clark was covered with immense, healthy forests that had recycled themselves naturally for centuries. They grew from seeds, matured, reproduced, died, burned and prepared the land for a fresh seeding. Fire was not the enemy.
Explorers first saw the forests holding their place in the bio-system of the West. Settlers came and built forts and fences, houses and dams, cities and freeways. Forests were harvested for fuel and construction. They had to be cleared so man could build on the ground.
Timber companies, ranchers and railroaders thought the virgin forests were unending. In the latter part of the 19th century, they were allowed to recycle. During the early 20th century, timber companies and government agencies began to replant clear-cut forests to sustain timbering.
Then at mid-century, the conservationists, politicians, environmentalists and tree huggers came. They took the stand that thinning, clear-cutting, grazing, hunting, improving water tanks, roads and settlers only harmed the forest. So they instigated restrictions. They chose forest fire as the enemy, Smokey the Bear told them so. For the next 50 years of forest management, they fought forest fires. This encouraged people to build beautiful homes in the tall pines. Any attempt to use the crowning, crowded timber or deadfall as a private industry resource was scorned. The trees kept growing and seeding, shedding, dying and falling on the forest floor. In the 1980s, the pine-bark beetle became an obvious factor, and large stands of pine trees turned yellow and died.
Then lightning stood up and took his turn. He set the West on fire. It is still burning. Today, forest fires consume twice as much land each year as they did in 1970. The burn season today is two and a half months longer than it was in 1970. Nature is taking it back until every acre of pine trees in the West is recycled in the inferno. It will take years to recover from our hubris that allowed us to think we can bend nature’s rules and get away with it.
We all watch with fear and admiration as fire jumpers by the thousands every year risk their lives daily to protect man-made structures. And what happened to the environmentalists and conservationists and politicians who lead the battle to drive lumberjacks, cowboys and miners out of the woods? The same activists who used the spotted owl and their incestuous sycophant, the EPA, to shut down sawmill towns and grazing permits and road builders? The greasy politicians parading their magnanimous influence like circus monkeys in a side show shutting down the West by decreeing it a wilderness? Where are they now?
Now that, through unintended consequences, they have helped savage the West, I expect they’ve moved on. They’ve taken their Sierra Club calendars, endangered species T-shirts, fundraising bumper stickers and nonprofit lawyers to work on bombing horse slaughter plants, protesting GMO grain, burning animal research laboratories, sabotaging modern animal agriculture and, as always, trying to save the old reliable whale.
Ignorance repeats itself.