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Know the West

Carroll lives on imaginary planet

  Dear HCN,

In his essay, "Los Alamos is burning" (HCN, 5/22/00: Los Alamos is burning), Frank Carroll, formerly with the Forest Service and now with Potlatch Corp., presented us with two stretches of the imagination. First, he managed to avoid placing any blame for the Los Alamos fire on the Forest Service and other land-management agencies, which have long pursued a disastrous policy of preventing fire in the dry forests of the West. Instead, he placed the blame for the fires now spreading across the West on "well-intentioned'" environmentalists who are fighting to keep people and management out of the forests so as to preserve the forests "for all time in a pristine condition."

I don't know which planet Mr. Carroll is speaking about, but it certainly isn't the one I live on. Everyone, including the Forest Service, admits that the overload of forest fuels and current flammability of Western forests are due first and foremost to their decades-long "Smokey the Bear" policy of preventing and fighting forest fires. I don't know how Mr. Carroll missed this widely accepted conclusion.

More importantly, I don't know a serious environmentalist in the West who opposes all entrance by humans into Western forests. Due to past mismanagement of American forests by federal and state agencies, forest activists strongly advocate reintroducing fire by prescribed burning and reducing fuel loads by thinning small trees and removing the dog-hair thickets now blanketing the Western forests. I've worked with top forest activists throughout the West and have never heard one demand a hands-off policy, although they certainly don't trust the Forest Service or want to give them a completely free hand.

Mr. Carroll and others in the forest-products industry who are now blaming environmentalists should look at a fire policy published five years ago by Oregon Natural Resources Council, an environmental organization dedicated to protecting old-growth forests and wilderness in the West. I wrote this policy in 1995 along with forest activists Tim Lillibo, Wendell Wood, Andy Kerr, Regna Merritt and Doug Heiken. Not once did we consider a hands-off or people-out-of-the-forest policy. Our policy was reviewed positively by top forest activists, as well as by fire specialists with the Forest Service. The policy is just as useful today as it was five years ago. If it had been implemented, maybe we wouldn't now be watching Western towns burn down.

Joy Belsky
Portland, Oregon

Joy Belsky is staff ecologist for Oregon Natural Desert Association.