Once again, we have to deal with wildfires. The fires remind us we still have not turned around the misguided environmental policies of the last 40 years. The result is, every summer we have nature on a rampage. Massive fires are disrupting lives, killing and injuring people and animals, destroying resources and structures, and costing billions of tax dollars to fight. The smoke pollution alone affects the health of people hundreds of miles away.
No doubt, we would have had some fires this year no matter what; wildfire is a fact of nature. In past centuries, lightning strikes started fires that burned until the rains came. Native Americans used fire to clear land for eons before the gold rush. But we learned how to keep them from being so devastating.
Early in the 20th century, our forefathers created a forest management system that worked. Cattle pruned the chaparral and mature trees were harvested before they could become dangerous. It was good stewardship. But a powerful environmental movement grew in the later part of the 20th century. It became strong enough to stop lumbering, and take the cattle out of the wild lands. Yet nothing was done to control the fire risk.
The result: massive wildfires.
The Forest Service spends 2.4 billion dollars annually putting out fires. That amount goes up each year. This year, more than 50 percent of the Forest Service’s annual budget will be spent fighting wildfire. In 1995, fire made up 16 percent of its budget.
Up in the high country, the danger is obvious. The forest is dotted with pine trees killed by a beetle infestation. Those trees stand brown and dry, ready to explode. At ground level, the grasses and brush stand waist high and thick. It’s a disaster waiting to happen, and now it is happening.
The lesson is obvious. Neglect is not the way to protect the environment. We know what to do, let’s do it.
It’s time to change our ways. Protecting the environment does not mean leaving it untouched by human hands. People have a right to be part of the environment. We have a right to be here, no less right than the trees and the rocks, and we can actively manage the forest with lumbering and livestock. Bring back the chainsaws! With proper care and good stewardship, we can protect the environment and stop these devastating fires.