While environmentalists don'?t actually cause wildfires, radical environmentalists actually do cause natural wildfires to be more dangerous and kill more people because of the policies they force upon the forestry services.
No, environmentalists don't actually cause the wildfires. But I'm sure you will agree it makes for a great title. What the radical environmentalists actually do is to cause natural wildfires to be more dangerous and kill more people because of the policies they force on the forestry services.
A perfect example of well-meaning but stupid policies has been on display recently on Lake Tahoe, Nevada, where hundreds of homes and businesses and thousands of acres of forests were destroyed by wildfires. This devastation was predicted many years ago by a Lake Tahoe firefighter I met.
He and I were attending a stock investing seminar at Lake Tahoe. Having spent a few hours walking through the woods, I remarked that there seemed to be an awful lot of "fuel" in the woods. To a firefighter, "fuel" means dead branches and leaves (sometimes several feet deep) lying around, and dead trees still standing. In a forest fire, the presence or lack of fuel like this can make the difference between a mild, easy-to-extinguish fire, or a deadly conflagration such as Lake Tahoe recently experienced.
As a former volunteer fire-fighter and later a professional firefighter, I have personally seen the difference when dead fuel is removed and when it is allowed to stay in place. In fact, I was almost killed fighting a wildfire when an axle broke on the truck I was driving. If there hadn't been so much dead underbrush, I would have been able to contain the fire with the water I had on board until help arrived. But all the dead wood caused the fire to spread so fast that I was forced to abandon my truck and run for my life.
I asked the Lake Tahoe firefighter why the fuel had not been cleared. He told me that the firefighters association and the forestry people wanted to do so, but the "greenies" (as he called them) had blocked their cleanup efforts with protests and threatened court action. The environmentalists said the forest should be left in its natural state. He then predicted that some day these policies would result in terrible fire in Lake Tahoe. "Some day" has arrived.
This is a perfect example of what happens when good intentions and lack of knowledge converge. I'm sure the "tree-huggers" as many affectionately call them thought they were doing Mother Nature (or the Earth Goddess as Al Gore likes to call nature) a favor. But they didn't have a clue as to the effects of their actions.
As I said, the Lake Tahoe firefighter's prediction came true, although I haven't heard forestry officials admit on the news that failure to clear the dead fuel contributed to the devastation there. However, the media did report that the similar huge fires in Utah were made much worse because of all the dead fuel present there.
Here's a small primer on forest fires. They are good. If they were not good for the overall balance of nature, God would not allow them. After all, this is His earth. Forest fires clear out the dead material we have been talking about, and make it easier for new trees to grow. This is the natural order of things.
Forest fires far from civilization don't really hurt anything. When lightning strikes in an area where the vegetation is very dry due to lack of rain, a fire starts. Bambi and her forest friends (who do not have homes or businesses) simply move to an area where there is no fire. The fact that forest fires occur on a fairly regular basis when nature is left alone means that there are no huge dead fuel loads that can destroy the forest. So in a few years when the forest regenerates, Bambi can come back.
Forest fires close to homes and businesses are a different story altogether. If the fire fuel is not dealt with before a wildfire starts, buildings will be destroyed and people will die. The environmental wackos say, "So what?" They say, "Man is the enemy of nature." They don't believe we should be allowed near nature. I don't know where they would like to place us. Perhaps in a colony on the moon where we could never disturb the Earth Goddess.
But the fact is that man is here to stay. In the book of Genesis in the Bible we find that God Himself placed man on the earth, and gave him dominion over the earth and all the living creatures thereon. Sorry, green folks. A higher authority than the "Earth Goddess" has spoken.
This doesn't mean that we have the authority to destroy the earth. We are here as caretakers. The plants and animals are here for our enjoyment and use. So I agree with the sane environmentalists when they say that we have a responsibility to be responsible. We shouldn't cut down forests without replacing them. We shouldn't eat bald eagles.
So how have the environmentalists (and the governmental agencies on all levels who are scared to death of them) contributed to increased danger to people and buildings during forest fires?
First, they have opposed (sometimes very violently) any attempt to clean up the dead fuel that makes the fires burn so much hotter. I'm not saying that we should do cleanup in all forested areas. That would be impossible. But any area that is close to people should be cleaned up. The irony is that there are people who would do it for free. There is a good business in firewood, and there are individuals and businesses that would happily cut down and remove dead trees for resale. But if they do so on federally owned lands (which, by the way, WE The People own), they can be arrested.
The other way they make wildfires worse is by interfering with nature -- exactly the thing they accuse people of when they want to clear dead trees and brush which fuel raging wildfires. Let me explain.
Forest fires are natural. They have been around since God created the earth. The process I described earlier is part of nature and is GOOD for forests. A dead tree in a dry forest is hit by lightning, a fire starts, and dead brush, limbs and trees are burned away. Younger, strong trees are scorched and a few die, but most survive. The forest is stronger and also safer because the dead fire fuel is gone.
Here are some benefits of forest fires:
Lodge pole pines, which are very common in some of our national parks, have cones that are sealed by resin until the intense heat of a fire cracks the bonds and releases the seeds inside. The cones can hang on the tree for years, but it takes a fire to release the seeds and allow new trees to start their lives.
The ash and char which are a natural result of fire are also good for the environment. They serve as natural fertilizer for the seeds that are released by the fire.
Most native plants are adapted to fire. For instance, scientists believe that fires may stimulate regeneration of sagebrush, aspen, and willows. Also, although above-ground parts of grasses are consumed by flames, the below-ground root systems typically remain unharmed, and after a fire these plants commonly increase in productivity.
Non-native plants (plants that have brought here from other countries), which often disturb the fragile balance of nature, are not fire-adapted. So fire is good in this sense, as well, because it kills these non-native plants.
Now, what do you think happens when we interfere with nature? The Lake Tahoe firefighter I mentioned earlier told me that his fire department was not allowed to let nature take its course. The fire professionals often wanted to let fires burn the selves out, taking away the dead fuel and leaving the healthy trees. Obviously, they would have controlled the fire, and not allowed it to endanger people or buildings. But the eco-wackos influenced the liberal politicians, and wouldn't let the professionals do their jobs. Why? Often because some rare bird or animal lived in the forest, and the greenies felt that public safety should take a back seat to the safety of lizards and toads.
The result of generations of this policy is was the ruin of 225 homes and businesses and the destruction of 3,100 acres of beautiful forest. Forestry officials have called this the worst fire in a century in this area. (See LINK below.) You may ask, "But won't the forest come back?" Perhaps in time, but the destruction was much worse than it should have been, and many younger, strong trees died because of the tree-huggers.
Ironic, isn't it? Their stated goal is to preserve nature, but they don't bother to study nature enough to know that their policies harm the very trees they hug. If the fire fuel is either cleared or allowed to burn up naturally (when fuel loads are low), forest fires do little long-term damage. But when generations of dead fuel are present, the fires burn much hotter, and the entire forest can perish (including the younger, stronger trees which would normally survive fires with low fuel loads).
Now, if you think the idea of letting a fire burn instead of putting it out as soon as possible, consider this. The recent fires in the Milford Flat area of Utah destroyed 300,000+ acres of forest, the largest forest fire ever recorded in the state. (See LINK below.) The news media reported that fire and forestry officials were calling for some areas with low fire loads to be allowed to burn themselves out, for the very reasons I have described in this article. They wanted to let nature take care of the dead fuel in order to prevent worse fires in these areas in the future.
The problem was that much of the wildfire area couldn't be allowed to burn itself out naturally. It needed to be extinguished because years of mismanagement had caused a heavy fire fuel buildup. Anne Standworth, a spokeswoman with the Bureau of Land Management noted that "
the landscape is littered with ample amounts of extremely dry brush and other fuels." (See LINK below.)
Also, consider this. Firefighters across the nation deliberately start fires, using techniques such as "controlled burns" (also known as "prescribed burns") and "back fires." Controlled burns are sometimes used to rid forested areas of dead fuel (although this is done more often when nature starts a fire, and officials choose to control it rather than to extinguish it). (See LINK below.)
Back fires are used to clear areas in the path of an uncontrolled fire. Firefighters try to determine where a fire is heading, and set fires in a perimeter around the area. When the fire arrives, it finds a "fence" of already-burned ground (called a fire break), and can advance no further. The only problem with back fires is that they must usually be done hurriedly because the firefighters are racing the big fire. If they don't have time to complete a wide enough fire break, the fire can jump the break and start fires on the other side. (Fire breaks can also be created by cutting down trees and brush and by the use of bulldozers.)
Yellowstone National Park started ignoring the ecologists in 1972 when they instituted a new fire management policy (see LINK below). In the first sixteen years of the new natural fire policy (1972-1987), 235 fires were allowed to burn 33,759 acres. All of the fires were extinguished naturally.
Unfortunately, in 1988 a huge fire broke out that brought the eco-freaks back in force. 793,000 (about 36%) of the park's 2,221,800 acres were burned. There was much weeping and wailing, and of course Congress felt compelled to "investigate." But the bottom line was that there was no severe damage to the forests in the areas where fires had previously been allowed to burn themselves out naturally. The major damage was all in the areas where (previous to the natural fire policy being instituted) all fires had been extinguished immediately, leaving the heavy fuel load that caused the 1988 fires to be so severe.
The moral to this story is that we should leave nature alone when it comes to forest fires, unless lives or property are threatened. Firefighters are sworn to protect people and property, in that order. Their job is hard enough without making them risk their lives to protect some exotic swamp rat or tree frog.
Dr. Tom Barrett has been an ordained minister for 30 years. He has written for local and national publications for most of his life, and has authored several non-fiction books. He has been interviewed on many TV and radio programs, and speaks at seminars nationwide. Tom is the editor and publisher of Conservative Truth, an email newsletter read by over fifty thousand weekly which focuses on moral and political issues from a Biblical viewpoint.