Fed-Fueled Fires

In my bookWild Kinship, I talk about the serious problems that occur when humans over-manage nature. The kind of management that evolves into an ongoing war against natural world and natural order, whereby nature itself becomes something to fear, dominate, exploit and destroy. Unfortunately, like a wildfire itself gone rogue, this is something that has become the prevailing human saga of the 21st century.

Public land management agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, Department of the Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are government funded entities given jurisdiction to, on good faith, manage many of our public lands, including wild grasslands, deserts and forests. With the BLM managing nearly 58 million acres of woodlands across 12 States and parts of Alaska, the US Forest Service managing around 25% and the Department of the Interior managing 75% of our public lands, these agencies are entrusted by the general public to do what’s best for our remaining natural wild spaces. But sometimes, too much management is simply too much. Historical mistakes in land management are often written off as “blunders” but it is however, becoming undeniable these blunders are escalating, especially as humanity’s great disconnect from wild nature grows.

Just as so many have, in my on-going work in wetland restoration, as well as in my brief employment with the Forest Service, I have seen first-hand the many failings of so-called public “land management”. Most of which due to a radical misunderstanding of natural order, fundamentals of basic ecology or a plain lack of common sense. The alarming lack of awareness and common sense throughout the general public on the matter, is even less encouraging, as it directly represents a lost part ourselves as creatures of the same Earth we are trying so hard to manage.

There are of course, endless examples of how federally-led mis-management of public wildlands contribute to ecological collapse threatening our last wild spaces, but in this article, I am going to focus on wildfire forest management. 

Fire season in New Mexico this year, not only began much earlier than previous years, but swiftly turned into the worst fire season in the state’s history, with two of the largest fires merging into one. The fire complex became the largest ever in New Mexico’s State history. 

The two fires were initiated in two separate areas by the Forest Service in a “standard practice…intended to clear out combustible underbrush”. Interestingly, the process that was once called “controlled” burning was renamed by the federal government to “prescribed” burning after more than just a handful of these fires got out of hand, just as the two prescribed fires I am speaking of now had. 

The two fires named, Calf Canyon and Hermit’s peak fires grew so fast and so intensely they eventually merged into one massive wildfire event becoming New Mexico’s largest wildfire in history. Leading way to further desertification and major flooding, it is a devastating outcome that will be felt for generations to come. 

In my book I talk in more detail about erroneously over-thinning underbrush to prevent wildfire, and often too, well-intentioned techniques are developed to try to mimic practices by implemented by Native Americans. Practices for which we have little reliable references of, which means we also have little notion on just how effectively these human-fueled fires were in balancing or improving natural ecology. 

Another problem with trying to implement ancient forest management techniques such as the “controlled” burns once executed by Native Americans, is a vast void of natural knowledge and nature-awareness. Certainly, Native peoples lived alongside a wild array of natural equilibriums unlike most of us do today. Most of us, including myself, live in areas not thriving as well as they once had before the hand of post-agricultural (hu-)man struck such a discord over them. 

With a growing number of our population living in dense urban cities, the natural knowledge of what a truly healthy forest should look like, becomes lost. Even in areas of so-called natural forest, hundreds of years of human-inflicted abuse to the landscape has curtailed our understanding of truly thriving Nature. 

To bring it closer to home, both literally and figuratively, the second largest wildfire in the state’s history currently burns not more than thirty miles from where I happen to live. Its not just scary for us, the fact shouldn’t be discounted simply because one does not live near actively burning forest either. This is something that affects all of us. Not just regionally, but globally.

We need thriving forests to live, period.

Views of massive smoke plume of New Mexico’s 2nd largest fire seen on route to our home.

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