Think of the tragedies beneath the smoke plumes


In his June 26 letter, John M. Hopkins blames environmentalists for wildfires now plaguing Colorado. His biased analysis does not present accurately a far larger historic perspective.

For at least a century of forest management, fire was seen only as a implacable enemy to be suppressed and banished at all times. This was common wisdom shared by government and the public alike. We all rallied around Smokey Bear.

But in recent decades, environmental research proved this concept a very misguided way to manage forests. Such policies created forests choked with undergrowth, which didnít resemble the ancient forests which once covered our wildlands.

Excessive undergrowth only provides over-abundant fuel which serves as ladders to let ground fires reach tree crowns. Even environmentalists recognize this and support properly-planned pruning of undergrowth. But there is a centuryís worth of bad decisions to be reversed forest-by-forest, and that will take much time.

Sometimes fire does the reversing for us, if we donít have time or money to beat it to the punch. Other factors can intervene also, like excessive beetle populations which kill too many trees because beetles no longer freeze to death in globally-warmed winters.

Long droughts like the one the Southwest now suffers can overwhelm even the soundest forest planning when millions of trees die of thirst. Such factors are beyond the control of everyone, including environmentalists.

People who choose to build homes in the woods sometimes do build too close to the brush, and it is their responsibility to clear that brush and create defensible space around their houses. Environmentalists did not plant that brush. And the best defensible spaces still can be overwhelmed by firestorms created in violent weather, as Colorado Springs is seeing.

You get a thrill watching large smoke plumes? Whatís happening under those plumes? Are homes being destroyed? Are firefighters and homeowners dying? I donít enjoy watching plumes when I think of what tragedies may be happening underneath them.

James F. Andrus


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