Fire and ice


Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.

Those opening lines of the old Robert Frost poem seem to apply to the West's public lands this spring. As out-of-control wildfires scorch the Southwest, more northerly regions are still waiting for the snow to finish melting; both problems are shutting down forest access.

With the Wallow Fire raging across 310,000 acres of eastern Arizona and extreme fire danger throughout the 2-million-acre Coronado National Forest, the Forest Service plans to close the entire forest beginning June 9 at noon; the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest closed last week. The forests won't reopen til monsoon rains arrive later this summer.

Fire on Arizona's Coconino National Forest in 2008. Courtesy of USFS.

In arid New Mexico, as of mid-May the Lincoln National Forest has been closed. And parts of  Cibola National Forest and Gila National Forest are also closed or restricted.

Fire danger has also caused the Bureau of Land Management to close public lands in various places around the West, including an area northwest of Palm Springs, California.

To try to bring big wildfires to heel, the Forest Service is dropping fire retardant on several of them, including the Wallow, despite the agency's recent examination of the harms caused by fire retardant.

Meanwhile, in more northerly national forests, including Utah's Manti-La Sal, Idaho's Sawtooth and Montana's Gallatin and Lewis and Clark, many roads, trails and campgrounds are closed due to lingering snow and deep drifts. In northeast Wyoming, heavy rain recently closed roads in portions of the Black Hills National Forest.

Snow melting on Mt. Baker, Washington. Courtesy Curt Smith, flickr.

So, if you want to go wander this spring, perhaps you should consider leaving the West and taking the road less traveled -- I hear Kansas is lovely this time of year. Nothing's on fire there, and the snow's all melted.


Jodi Peterson is managing editor of High Country News.


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