The results of our public managers
September 5, 2013
For what seems like forever we have suffered from the smoke of the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park. On the way back from eastern Nevada earlier, I stopped at the Trinity rest stop. I was asked there by a Burner (Burning Man attendee, for clarification) what was causing the smoke. My response was, "Two years of drought and about 40 years of mismanagement."
You can imagine the emotional but naïve response to that. The ensuing discussion was lively. My point was that the "hands-off" attitude of many forest managers egged on by environmentalists has created throughout the western National Forest system a series of disasters waiting to happen. Grazing and logging historically removed undergrowth and surplus timber. Cessation of those activities has created an unbelievable fuel load so that when a fire starts it creates a literal firestorm.
This naïve soul was from the upper central U.S. if license plates are any indication. She did not seem to grasp that trees grow, unaided, in forests just as they will in her yard. Likewise, grass needs to be harvested, or it will clump and eventually choke itself out. The term "renewable natural resources" meant nothing to her.
She was quick to cite the damage that clear-cut logging does to the environment. I pointed out that clear cutting has rarely been allowed on federal lands since the 1970s. She further did not care for my comment that there is certainly a clear cut now, fire-caused.
I don't blame her. I blame so-called experts who have college degrees but have spent very little time outside of the classroom, and upper level government administrators who buy into the politics of environmentalism in order to preserve their positions.
Not long after that incident I noticed an AP report on the fire written by a reporter in Reno. This reporter, who I will not name, stated in his "report" that control of fire was complicated by years of catering to "timber interests." This prompted me to call the Stanislaus National Forest headquarters. No one there could (or would) tell me the last time grazing or logging was allowed in this area. From this I concluded that it has been some time since either has taken place.
This leads me to the assumption that the only "timber interests" that have had any influence in the area of the Rim Fire are the "hands-off" crowd who can't grasp that renewable resources such as trees must be harvested instead of saved. Saved for what, I am still trying to figure out.
It amuses me that grazing goats on recent burns for weed management is the newest public management rage. The taxpayer pays a hefty price for this tool, yet in the not too distant past livestock producers would pay the government to graze with the added bonus of reduced fuels before a fire started.
Cliff Gardner is a retired rancher from Ruby Valley in Elko County. He now spends much of his time touring the West making comparisons of the appearance and productivity of public lands versus adjacent private lands, and comparing public lands where livestock use has been eliminated to that time when it was being grazed. He makes some compelling cases. I suspect, however, that he is not taken too seriously by public land managers because he does not have a college degree, only a lifetime of experience.
If you want a real history of land management blunders, study the history of Yellowstone Park. I don't have space to detail that history, but the documentation is there. Everything from lack of resource harvest for fire management to actions favoring one species over others since the park's inception is telling. Luckily, and contrary to the beliefs of most environmentalists, nature is resilient and if left alone will heal itself from the sometimes colossal public management blunders.
It doesn't take a lot of research to realize that there is very little the federal government does that cannot be done better by private enterprise. Public lands management and utilization is one glaring example.
The same government that brings you the Post Office and passes onerous laws before they read them has a similar record in managing federal lands. With few exceptions, where there has been no private influence from grazing, logging, mining, or recreation, public lands are a time bomb waiting for a lightning strike. When will our government realize they don't have all of the solutions? Public land management needs to be given to the states.
Tom Riggins' column appears every other Friday.