Bessie and Smokey are sweethearts

  Dear HCN:

Your story about the Forest Service's demonization of fire (HCN, 3/6/95) was a fascinating account but failed to mention the well-documented but little publicized role of domestic livestock in the suppression of fire throughout the West.

By removing grasses, especially in ponderosa pine forests, livestock have removed the fine fuels that enable fires. Less fire has allowed dense "dog-hair" stands of ponderosa to establish in places they couldn't under a natural ecological regime. The older yellow-belly pine forest, which could survive grass fire, has been altered forever.

But all this did not happen by accident. In the early days of the Forest Service, many of the proponents of ranching argued that livestock would lend a helping hand in the agency's battle against fire. No doubt, that rationale was a significant factor in obtaining the support of those foresters who questioned the appropriateness of ranching on the national forests. Today, some employees of the Forest Service and BLM, and many ranchers, still argue against a reduction of grazing on public lands strictly on the premise that heavy grazing will help suppress fires.

I hope future stories on the topic of fire suppression note that Bessie the Cow and Smokey the Bear have long been in bed together in the demonization of fire.

John Horning

Santa Fe, New Mexico

John Horning works with the environmental group, Forest Guardians.

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