REMEMBERING PRINEVILLE AND 30 MILE


The Yarnell Hill fire that killed 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots from Arizona has already been blamed on “enviros”, like the 2011 Pagami Creek Fire in my favorite area of the Boundary Waters.  I don’t like the word “enviros,” and I am deeply disturbed how charged words end up in the vernacular, because the side who opposes my views keeps repeating them.  That’s how we got “Obama Care,” “death panels,” and “activist judges.”  For the record, it is the Affordable Health Care Act, and there is a lot of evidence to support the notion that the conservative side of the Supreme Court is activist, not the liberal.  Repetition does not always increase validity.  But back to Yarnell Hill.

Had the area been logged “appropriately,” some said, there would have been no fire.  Logging=jobs.  Jobs=money.  Money=things and kids.  Lots of kids.  Too many kids for the jobs available and for the carrying capacity of the world.  We think the world won’t change.  But it does. Email and online banking have hurt the post office.  Our big steel and copper industries are now small.  No longer are there well paying jobs for people coming out of high school.  Newspapers are in trouble.  The Grand Banks fisheries collapsed.  What happened to record and book stores?  I could extend the list; all these industries have had to change or disappear.

The world has changed, and the forests have, too; in part, because we put out natural fires, because of insects, and because of climate change, which affects the environment, including parasitic beetles.

Since I am an environmentalist, a so-called tree hugger (which I literally am), I am going to play the “blame game” here, since many of my detractors are not called out on their boorish behavior, counting on the rest of us to have been brought up well by our mothers to remain silent.

How dare you blame me and my beliefs for the deaths of the firefighters!!  We haven’t even had the investigation completed yet, but I will bet any amount of money there will be recommendations made that are going to anger a lot of people.  That is all I will say about my predictions.  I have a decent idea of why this occurred, but the investigation will tell me a lot more, some of which will be consistent with what I think, some of which will not.  But rather than wait for the investigation, some wish to blast the environmentalists, so we can mine, cut, hack, and destroy the Earth in the name of money….perhaps in the name of some sort of Deity, too.

Some of the fault was done in the name of what we once thought was good. The Smokey the Bear mindset convinced at least two generations of people that all fire in wild country is bad. Human caused fires are bad, but if they can be caused by humans, they can be caused by lightning, too.  The media will refer to “land destroyed by fire”.  In 1989, we built in the Sonoita grasslands, south of Tucson.  During the building, a 300 acre grass fire burned over all our property.  The house was scorched but hardly damaged.  When I saw the scorched land, I said to myself, “This will take a long time to come back.”  Six weeks later—SIX WEEKS–there was fresh grass, it was brilliant green, and it was home again to animals.

In 2005, on a solo canoe trip to Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park, I walked on a portage where the Bird Lake Fire burned 10 years previously.  I saw thousands of jack pine trees, all the same age, over this area.  Not all will survive.  Some will, others will die or be stunted.  Jack pine cones need fire to sprout.  This will be a big, shady jack pine forest in 40 years.  I won’t live to see it, but it will be there.  Natural fire clears and cleans the wilderness.  I haven’t been back to Yellowstone since the fires of 1988, but those who have know the positive changes it has had on wildlife and the ecosystem in general.  Remember what we all thought in 1988?

How dare you use the deaths of the firefighters as a reason to log the forests!  What could be logged, where they died?  Why do we allow houses to be built in these fire prone areas?  Why should young men and women put their lives at risk to save property?  If “Prineville” and “30 Mile” don’t ring a bell with you, will “Yarnell Hill” mean anything in 2025?  Prineville, Oregon, was the town where the hotshots came from, who died at South Canyon in 1994.  Thirty miles north of Winthrop, Washington, in 2001, the 30 Mile fire killed four young men and women.  The former had at least 20 rules violated; the latter was a tragedy that could have been prevented by not fighting it in the first place, and a concatenation of mistakes.  Easy in hindsight?  Sure.  Before?  Perhaps.  Listen to the video and draw your own conclusions.

Let the investigation proceed.  Afterwards, I would welcome a national debate on how we should manage our forests, except the boors will shout down everybody else and refuse to consider anything other than their ideas.  Can we debate the known science?  Can we honor the memory of these 37 young men and women and all the others who were killed or maimed by learning what to fight, what not to fight, when to fight it, how to fight it, and when to step back?

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