Public Speaker on Public Issues

 

BLOWING SMOKE

Which one blows more smoke, human beings or catastrophic forest fires? Now there is a question worth addressing! With the 'fire season' about over, we now enter the 'hindsight season'. Blowing smoke characterizes both.

How hard can it be to recognize that some fires should be allowed to burn to some degree, and some fires should not be allowed to burn? It's as hard as selfishness, indifference and/or lack of courage on the part of industry, resource agencies, courts, extreme environmental organizations and individuals can make it.

Neither approach regarding fire should be a blanket policy in forest management on public lands. Yet, the air ways and print media avenues are filling with the polarizing positions surrounding all sides of the issue. In the middle are our once magnificent national forests.

National forests have fallen victim to more then just diseases, insects and overstocking. The greatest destruction is being brought on by human beings. It's not a whole lot more complicated then that.

I use no other label when identifying the real problem. To do so would put readers into their individual 'comfort zone' where they can justify many things without taking personal responsibility for their roles. When it is all said and done, when the forests and their ecosystems are critically degraded, human beings will have been the major player, not Mother Nature.

The multitude of resources (both physical and abstract) found within the boundaries of national forests are to be shared and respected by all. The limited space available here requires that we focus on one particular resource i.e., forests as in TREES.

Forest resources in this nation abound. There's enough for everybody and their value systems to have some. Responsibly sharing these resources guarantees sustainability. The numerous laws governing public lands represent legal attempts to guarantee that Americans share our national wealth. Wealth that goes into our spiritual and economic bank accounts.

Laws are useless, however, if human beings do not recognize, honor, improve and/or implement them. A deficit of all of the above have resulted in the degradation of our national forests.

How so and by whom? Many big forest industry players have sat back and watched the assault on access to timber harvesting on national forest lands. This served their self-interests well as they knew lack of access to public lands would only increase the value of their private lands and forests. Some forest industry entities put forth anemic support for those struggling to maintain access and get the message out to the larger American public. The court of public opinion was allowed to fill with the extremists' message and misinformation. This is a case where low volume was the same as silence resulting in a verdict of 'guilty as charged' in the court of public opinion. Paycheck before principle has been the operative phrase here.

Many smaller industry folks waited a very long time to get seriously engaged on forest and access issues. Avoidance and procrastination have their prices.

Federal resource agency professionals have avoided the leadership role of developing a national message and delivery mechanism about the balance of sharing, and the coast-to-coast benefits (social and economic) of responsible multiple use.

Additionally, courage from within could not be found by enough management professionals to speak out regardless of comfort level about what they knew in their hearts was happening and why it wasn't right. All too often they have found their courage after retirement when the paycheck was no longer in jeopardy.

Collateral fallout of this silence and avoidance has been twofold. First, the setting of an example to the younger resource professionals that principle comes after the paycheck. Second, the re-staffing of these agencies with many that hold resource utilization in deep contempt.

Agency professionals who tried and tried to stem the tide were abandoned by their peers and ostracized within their career circles. Left alone too many times to take the heat, many retired early taking their expertise and heartache with them.

Extreme environmentalists have made it clear that it's all their way or no way. Sharing is not in their vocabulary. Abuse of both the appeal processes and court system have consumed human, financial and emotional resources at the expense of forest health. Pretending to 'come to the table', pretending to 'try and find middle ground', they have played the well-meaning average citizen and harassed resource agencies for fools. Their operative approach amounts to, 'Let's each give something. I'll give you guilt and you give up your lifestyle.' It has worked.

Liberal courts have played their role. Individual judges have handed down decisions that reflect their opinion rather then the intent of the law and the balance of justice.

You can say what you want about the impacts of insects, disease and fire risk. Anyone with a flare for the obvious knows that all the hot air of human beings is the real mortality factor for our forests.

~ Wyoming Livestock Roundup - November 26, 2001

Permission granted to reprint in full or part with full credit given to author.

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