Fire management has become increasingly reckless and irresponsible in
recent years. (8) This is especially true in many federal and state
forests and parklands, which are theoretically held in trust for all
Americans. In some southern states the U. S. Forest Service has set
crown fires over wide areas of coniferous forests to kill infestations
of insects. This is particularly destructive. Most insect infestations
are cyclic, running their course after several years and causing limited
damage. “Stand Replacing” fires can be equally destructive. This is
where all trees in an area are killed so as to repopulate it with other
species, either by natural reseeding or by the planting of seedlings, or
a combination of these two methods.
Then there was the dropping of napalm on coniferous forests in
Colorado by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Colorado
Department of Fish and Game to clear corridors for mountain sheep during
their seasonal migrations. (Mountain sheep are a hunted trophy species.)
In Sam Houston National Forest in Texas 2,600 acres of trees were
bulldozed and set afire with chemical gels and gasoline, purportedly to
control the pine beetle.
Forestry personnel now admit that the pine beetle had already
completed its natural life cycle two years earlier and was no longer a
significant factor in the ecosystem! (9) It should be noted that most
tree diseases that exist in North America, including blister rust, white
pine weevil, spruce budworm, gypsy moth, beech bark disease, Dutch elm
disease, and chestnut blight, did not exist 200 years ago on this
continent. They were imported from Europe or Asia.
It is obvious that the deliberate use of fire in many natural areas
has become completely and shockingly destructive. In New York’s Catskill
Park a billboard showing Smokey the Bear carries the message, “Help
Prevent Wildfires.” (It is no longer “Only You Can Prevent Forest
Fires.”) The underlying sentiment of the new sign is unmistakable;
Wildfires are bad, but controlled burning is good. Even rangers at the
Great Smokey Mountain National Park now practice fire management.
Controlled burns do not create conditions conducive to the natural
evolution of plant and animal life. They disrupt and sometimes destroy
ecosystems to conform to human goals that are at best very limited, and
at worst completely exploitative. The use of fire greatly compounds any
existing ecological problems. While we can’t protect forests from
occasional disruptions caused by wind and severe weather, we can and
must protect them from the destructive effects of fire. By so doing we
would allow forests to evolve progressively as Nature intended.