Saving the U.S. Forest Service

  • A U.S. Forest Service fire patrol vehicle, circa 1914.

    USFS
  • Ed Pulaski, a ranger who saved the majority of his 45-man crew during the Big Burn.

    Library of congress
 

The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt & the Fire That Saved America
Timothy Egan
336 pages, hardcover: $27.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.


The United States of America leaped into the 20th century with a surfeit of natural resources and a flamboyant leader. Early in his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt proposed a radical idea: Set aside and protect certain parts of the country for the enjoyment of all its citizens. Despite industry's opposition, he managed to create the Forest Service. But congressmen balked at paying for "scenery," and so "jungle capitalism" broke out in the West, according to Timothy Egan's new book, The Big Burn.

During the first decade of the 1900s, "Teddy's green rangers" bravely attempted to protect public lands. But they were losing the battle. Hard-knuckle brawls erupted in forests and on the streets of Western towns, in rowdy mining camps and in elegant dining rooms. Verbal fisticuffs broke out in the halls of Congress. Industrial capitalists like J.P. Morgan, William A. Clark and John D. Rockefeller scrambled to make all the money they could off the "free" natural resources in the West before Roosevelt and his chief forester, Gifford Pinchot, locked it all up.

When influential congressmen in cahoots with the powerful robber barons denied funding for the Forest Service, Pinchot deftly parried. He presented Congress with a new idea: His rangers, he said, could also fight wildfires.

Then, out in Idaho, a monster wildfire blew up. In less than two days, more than 3 million acres of trees and five towns were burned into ashes. Nearly 100 people died. Pinchot blamed Congress and promised to control future wildfires –– if his rangers were given adequate funding.

In The Big Burn, Egan posits that without the catastrophic fire of 1910, the public lands we enjoy today would not exist. But he also presents a down side to the salvation of the fledgling Forest Service: decades of fire-suppression policies. As "bigger, longer, earlier, hotter wildfires" have become more common, Egan says, "firefighting now accounts for nearly half of the Forest Service budget. This was not what Roosevelt had in mind."

Egan's meticulous research and engaging style enliven this many-sided story. His characters are round and fully animated, springing to life from the flat, dusty pages of history.


High Country News Classifieds
  • CARBON RANCH PLANNER
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • EDUCATION AND OUTREACH DIRECTOR
    Education and Outreach Program Director The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic,...
  • WESTERN DIVISION DIRECTOR OF FIELD PROGRAMS
    DEADLINE TO APPLY: October 29, 2021 LOCATION FLEXIBLE (WESTERN HUB CITY PREFERRED) Overview The Land Trust Alliance is the voice of the land trust community....
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • EVENTS AND ANNUAL FUND COORDINATOR
    The Events and Annual Fund Coordinator is responsible for managing and coordinating the Henry's Fork Foundation's fundraising events for growing the membership base, renewing and...