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Know the West

Fire story left out the locals

  "Keepers of the Flame," the title of the Nov. 8, 2004, High Country News cover story, is a religious allusion in harmony with the devotional tone of the article. While professors from North Carolina and Washington are granted a few lines to caution that not all forests are alike, no one offers any criticism of the Forest Service fire policy for the Gila.

The last 30 years have seen moments of cooperation and moments of conflict between the Gila National Forest and the public. Some of these conflicts have resulted in lawsuits in which the courts agreed that the Forest Service acted improperly. I would group the judgments against the Forest Service into three general categories: failure to fulfill their mission requirements; failure to prepare adequate action plans; and failure to properly implement and execute the steps contained in their own action plans. Cutting across all of these categories is the failure to communicate honestly with the public. All of these problems are present in the controversy over the Gila fire policy, yet none are acknowledged in the article.

Paul Boucher, current fire staff officer for the Gila, frames the conflict as one of science (favoring the Forest Service fire policy) versus ignorance (opposing fire). I know of no one opposing the policy who denies the role of fire in Gila ecology. Public resistance to the burn activities springs from frequent Forest Service failures to properly plan and execute its policies.

Derek Roff
Albuquerque, New Mexico