Sep 20 2013
The forests of America have been saved in good faith or not from the ravages of traditional cool fire, grazing animals, natural fires and forestry thinning the stands since at least 1910 in some cases if not back into the 1870s has been the policy of those European migrants wanting to put the brakes on “human exploitation” by their definitions at least. Selling access to wilderness tourist destination and researching a man made ecology chronically denied essential and natural proceses of cool frequent fire and or mixed species megafauna activity seems accepted by the boffins and bureaucrats making autocratic decisions based on opinion.
In 2014 the USA the Sierra Club and environmental activists are celebrating 50 years of the wilderness Act with over 109M hectares preserved under the Act. Non human intervention is the credo. When Europeans stumbled on America in 1492 there were an estimated 47M Indians there and had been for about 14000 years at least and arguably living sustainably across the land and assuming some megafauna, top order predator, biodiversity regulator status with their hunting farming and cool firing activities. There were an estimated 60M-100M bison, 2M bighorn sheep, 50-100M caribou, moose, elk, several species of deer, bear, coyote, wolves, mountain lion, bob cats, plenty of birds otter beaver fish in the rivers and ocean…ancient stands of sequoia fire safe for 2500-4000 years.
The Rim Yosemite fire currently raging is said started by a wilderness weed grower now turned into an illegal hunter. Bait for emotive venting of feelings. Either scenario indicates the fuel was waiting for the combination of circumstances of ignition inevitably one dry hot summer.
The 100+ years of fuel was likely the most premeditated part of the combined events. 100 years to do something and it wasn’t done. The price tag for fire fighting has been so far U$100+M for over 104000 hectares burnt. Up to 5000 fire fighters time. Many risking their lives to minimise impact in poorly fire prepared vegetation.
19 of 20 elite fire fighters were killed by a wind change and aeroplanes flown at the limits of their capacity dropping fire retardant are some of the recent costs of USA fire suppression policies. For U$102M the Yosemite-Rim fire was held to 104000 hectares with 5000 fire fighters. Rehabilitation of river valleys and reservoir catchments is expected to cost well over the $5M budget. 50 scientists have been assigned the consultancy. The area burnt had been denied cool fire from 1987 to as far back as 1910 or more. Undergrowth and tree density was maximal in many areas of steep terrain. Heavy rains before ground cover is established will have serious consequences for rehabilitation cost and success.
The ecological, economic and social impact is of questionable scale to continue supporting fire suppression policies without some other vegetation management calling into controversy the declaration of national park or wilderness with no management philosophy that is assumed. When one considers philosophical fanasicism, ill informed public opinion is apparently driving the policy of land management by people very distant from the action of impacts such as fire fighting or dealing with the consequences.
People want soot, silt, animal pooh free water, the popularised commercialised smoke, animal pooh free experience in the wilderness. Foresters and farmers have been branded enemy of wilderness by John Muir and his cult following across the world. At what cost? What cost the water and wilderness experience. Validity of dehabited wilderness?
It has been said the Rim Yosemite inferno was made worse by the un-thinned monoculture of pine planted as rehabilitation after the 1987 fire in the area. One age forest which had not been actively managed because of financial constraints due to forest fire fighting demands over recent years. Forestry services admit they are on the back foot as many vast areas of forest are over grown, the last decade there has been overgrowth and large fires in over growth and made worst pine bark beetle losses of about 600000 hectare a year of forest affected were dead conifers burn intensely. Has the beetle impact been another symptom of ecological collapse where woodpecker bird species, for example, have lost some of their food chain?
2.8M people are reliant on the Hetchy Hetchy dam for water in and around San Francisco. Water has been moved to other storages during the fire threat however the potential is there to damage water supplies indefinitely for domestic supply irrigation and hydroelectricity. One must be concerned for land management by unsustainable policies denying grazing animals, fire suppression such fire are bound to occur in weather extremes and much effort thrown at the fire to suppress it. Chemicals, labour, money. This must be costed into the price of city water eventually.
The Rim fire currently costing is about U$1M for fire fighting 1000 hectare.
There is 1300 hectare needing intensive rehabilitation in the Hetchy Hetchy dam catchment of 118 000ha. The Tuolumne river down stream in serious and a vulnerable condition to erosion. U$5M is declared inadequate for rehabilitation.
Noeline Franklin – BSC (Hon), M.Medsc, PTC.
16 Years CSIRO Scientist – Snowy Mountain Farmer