Firespeak Catastrophe

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Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, "A losing battle."

Firespeak catastrophe #1

"Wildland-urban interface." This catchall phrase describing the forest fringe includes cabins and watersheds in the woods around Salmon, Idaho — a remote town of only 3,200 people that can hardly be described as urban. It also includes Lowman, Idaho, which has about 15 people, as well as Aspen, Beverly Hills, Edwards Air Force Base in the California desert, Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Deer Run Industrial Park in Illinois, and New Orleans. One alternative phrase, "the Red Zone," is more descriptive. Red, as in flames or danger. Also, as in budgets in the red.

Firespeak catastrophe #2

"Pre-settlement condition." This is the goal of those who call for massive thinning, pruning, raking, and a lot more prescribed fires in many of the West’s forests, to imitate the role once played by lightning. These scientists, policy makers, environmentalists and loggers hope to restore the forests to what was here before European immigrants caused the thickets to grow. But they ignore the fact that the West was already settled by hundreds of thousands of Indians, who lit fires on millions of acres. They also imply that before Europeans showed up, the land was unchanging, rather than dynamic — and sometimes explosive.

Firespeak catastrophe #3

"Only you." Smokey Bear’s traditional slogan, "Only you can prevent forest fires," has been shortened by the federal government in an attempt to sound hip. The modern slogan is displayed on a re-energized line of Smokey Bear posters and souvenir T-shirts, caps and dolls. But considering how the average wildfire is more and more an uncontrollable monster, and global climate shifts seem to be a primary cause, there may be little that you or anyone else can do about it. The honest slogan would be, "You may be able to delay the inevitable by keeping your campfire and your cigarettes in hand, but this place will blow sky-high eventually."

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