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Who'll stop the burn?

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It is unfortunate that Adam Burke did not stop in Kingston, N.M., and talk to any New Mexicans who have looked critically at the Gila National Forest’s "fire use" policy (HCN, 11/8/04: Keepers of the Flame). In Kingston he might have been shown other effective techniques employed by Toby Richards, in response to community concerns, to create a protective fuel break. A chipper was brought in and piles of slash were broadcast in areas of bare, erosive soils. Volunteers helped pile slash for burning.

Due to budgeting and priority, these techniques were only used on a small portion of the 150-acre fuel break around Kingston, however. The majority of the thinned trees and branches were burned in place, often immediately beneath live trees, with the resulting loss of more than 50 percent of the prescribed "leave trees."

The key element that makes the "fire use" policy most applicable in the Gila is the sparse population living in and around the area. Who will be there to question the burning of America’s first designated wilderness, the Aldo Leopold Wilderness immediately west of Kingston, when the choice is being made?

Paul Boucher’s wish for a reversal of priorities in regard to fire suppression and fire use to preserve our forests echoes the role of the firemen in Ray Bradbury’s futuristic novel Fahrenheit 451, where they no longer put out fires but are employed to burn books to preserve the culture.

William Lindenau and Veronique De Jaegher
Kingston, New Mexico

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