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Keep fire wild

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Ray Ring’s wonderful story on fire in the West (HCN, 5/26/03: A losing battle) catches the deep tension we still have between a wild and tame West. Fire, just like grizzlies, drought, pine beetles and volcanoes, is a powerful force that has shaped Western ecosystems for millennia. One side of our Western culture has struggled mightily to tame these forces — killing the grizzlies, spraying the beetles, suppressing fire. The other side accepts, even extols the power of natural forces beyond our control and the importance of disturbance to ecosystems.

Ring reveals the deep contradictions in our present national forest plan, which on the surface seems to accept the need for fire to maintain healthy forest, yet in reality spends millions to tame fire and to keep it out of any place that newcomers choose to build a house. This is an old pain, rooted in the side of our culture which seeks to create a tame and safe West for whatever we wish to do.

We have to keep asking, as Ring has, how much of the West we want to be wild, how much tame? Fire, it seems, is more like drought and volcanoes than like grizzlies and beetles. We cannot fully control fire, drought or volcanoes. Sooner or later, we are going to have to settle into the West and create a sensible fire plan that will help us avoid a futile effort to tame the whole place.

Bill Baker
Laramie, Wyoming
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