Light them and leave them

  When it comes to fire, we need to get going on some concrete changes and stop pussyfooting around (HCN, 5/26/03: A losing battle). I can’t speak for spruce stands in Wyoming, or Doug-fir old growth in Oregon, or redwood groves in California, but let me say this about ponderosa forests and the sky islands of the Southwest:

1) The U.S. Forest Service needs to come clean and admit that its 100-year-old policy of fire suppression is WRONG and directly results in disastrous, catastrophic fires. Smokey the Bear has got to go.

2) The Forest Service needs to admit it has known #1 for 35 years. 3) Congress must stop diddling in Forest Service matters about which it has no knowledge or expertise.

4) Public (taxpayer) liability in ALL forms on our public lands must be eliminated. Whether you drown in the river, your house burns down, or you get bit by a snake — whatever — you are on your own.

5) All wildland burning from all causes on public land must be disconnected from the Clean Air Act. Forest managers can’t be fooling around, calling some bureaucrat in Phoenix or Albuquerque, when they want to burn.

6) Fire must be acknowledged as the best, cheapest and indeed our principal forest-management tool. Thinning is astronomically expensive, slow and temporary.

7) We do not have the time to play around with carefully delineated, surgically managed “controlled burns” — most of which are cancelled because the criteria are too complicated to begin with. We have to burn “off season.” Light them and leave them.

8) Given, say, a 10-year period to off-load all our current fuel and transition into a fire-acceptance scheme, phase out fire suppression over the same 10-year period. No more firefighting.

9) Eliminate the Fire Fund, a congressional boondoggle appropriation, now in the billions of dollars each year.

10) Landowners adjacent to public wildlands must all be informed that they are responsible for their own fire protection. As a survivor of this year’s Aspen Fire holocaust in the Catalina Mountains outside of Tucson, I am convinced that the Forest Service can NOT be reasonably expected to “protect” anything, given the magnitude of the problem that it has created.

Firefighters are a relic of the 20th century. The pyrotechnician lugging a drip torch through the woods is our man of the 21st century.

G. Arthur Janssen
Tucson, Arizona