Protect Fossil Creek From Idiots And Fools

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Want to understand human beings — for better and worse? Just check in on the debate about what to do with Fossil Creek — now that we’ve brought it back from the dead.

Pick your side.

For instance, you could conclude the effort to protect this breathtaking marvel proves there’s hope for our wayward and inconsistent species. Granted, first we used one of nature’s marvels by diverting almost all the water for more than a century to generate power to run air conditioners, homes and businesses in Phoenix.

But then we did a wonderful thing: We decided to shut down the hydroelectric plant and put the water back in the creek.

Biologists and researchers labored mightily to take advantage of this farsighted decision to benefit hard-pressed wildlife. But we put our great skill and ingenuity to work restoring this vital habitat.

And it worked — miraculously.

Returned to its streambed, the crystal clear, travertine laden waters of Fossil Creek created a deep, sparkling series of pools and waterfalls — quickly starting to rebuild the intricate travertine formations. Biologists removed non-native fish and have turned the creek now into a veritable refuge for native fish — like the Headwater Chub and the Verde Trout.

Anyone who has visited the creek knows that it’s magical — brimming with life and diversity from pool to root.

What an encouraging portent, for people worried about whether we can change our minds and protect what we squandered.

Well. That’s one side.

Of course, you could also offer up Fossil Creek as evidence that we’re hopeless — a greedy, short-sighted, heedless species, mindlessly fouling our own nest.

Turns out, lots of fools flocked to Fossil Creek as soon as the visionaries had restored it.

Last summer, these knuckleheads left at least 200 untended campfires, burning in a canyon thick with rustling sycamores and cottonwoods and willows and walnut and ash — a precious ecosystem tragically vulnerable to fire.

They scattered their litter heedlessly. They left their waste close to the creek, putting those pristine waters at risk. They jumped off cliffs and hiked hot trails without water — forcing dedicated search and rescue volunteers to return almost every weekend to save someone from their own short-sightedness.

Of course, most of the thousands of visitors that flocked to this little bit of Eden marveled and swam and left no trace. But every crowd always attracts a dismaying minority of idiots.

So the U.S. Forest Service imposed tough new rules — banning camping and fires, which went ignored in some cases.

That helped, but the Forest Service hasn’t got the resources to really enforce those rules.

This week, the Coconino National Forest held hearings in Flagstaff and Phoenix to get public input on a long-term plan to manage Fossil Creek, which Congress last year designated as a wild and scenic river — one of only two in the state.

We hope that the Forest Service will add a hearing in Payson as part of this process, since Fossil Creek really belongs to Rim Country, which offers the best access and the closest communities with a stake in protecting that precious resource. Why you would hold meetings in places far away from Fossil Creek and ignore the views of the people who live the closest is beyond our imagination.

We urge you to read today’s news story — and send off your suggestions and support at the e-mail address provided in the story.

And we hope that in the end, the Forest Service will make as its priority the protection of that natural wonder. We wish it weren’t necessary — but such places will always need protection from the selfish few.

Alas — that’s the bottom line conclusion that emerges from any close study of our strange and contradictory species. We’re brave, smart and farsighted — except when we’re not.

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