Time Now To Rise To The Tragedy


"These are the times that try men’s souls.”

Thomas Paine

We fear it’s happening already. Fresh from the funeral of 19 courageous firefighters who died for strangers, a slew of congressional types have for next week scheduled a hearing on “wildfire and forest management.”

On the face of it, that’s a good thing. The federal government has managed the forest into a firestorm — year by year by year by year. A century of arrogance and miscalculation set the stage for the searing tragedy of the Yarnell Hill Fire — and threatens the survival of every community in Rim Country.

We’re dismayed, however, by some of the rhetoric in the press release announcing the Thursday hearing before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation.

Several of the congressmen hoping the shock and horror caused by the deaths of those heroes in a hell of flame will give them a platform to snag headlines and place blame. Typically, some of those comments blame bureaucrats and environmentalists for the deadly condition of a forest that now has tree densities perhaps 100 times their natural state. Certainly, a flurry of environmental lawsuits have played a role in paralyzing forest management. But this tragedy grew inexorably from a century of overgrazing, mindless fire suppression and a refusal to manage the forest in a sustainable way. Forest managers sowed the wind and our firefighters have reaped the whirlwind. Moreover, decades of reckless building and dangerous building codes have increased the stakes immeasurably.

Rep. Paul Gosar, who represents Rim Country and serves on that committee, attended those heartbreaking funerals in Prescott. In the release, he quite correctly said, “we owe these men our everlasting thanks and we owe their families a commitment to pursue pro-active forest management policies, which will minimize catastrophic wildfires in the future.”

Absolutely true: Every word. Alas, we would have more confidence in his determination to seek solutions instead of conflict if his own bill seeking to speed up forest thinning projects had taken a more constructive and balanced approach. Still, we pray he will rise to the terrible demands of the moment and seek a solution that will unite instead of divide.

People like Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin and the loggers, environmentalists and foresters who hammered out the consensus that underlies the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) showed us all the way. They agreed on the need to protect the remaining big trees — and let a revived timber industry make money on the small trees choking millions of acres.

So for starters, we hope the Natural Resources Subcommittee will swiftly embrace 4FRI — and make it work.

Secondly, we hope the subcommittee will reject the criminally foolish policy that forces the Forest Service to take money out of its forest restoration budget to pay the multi-billion-dollar cost of fighting these fires. The money to fight wildfires should come from FEMA, for these catastrophes are surely hurricanes of flame.

Finally, let us set aside the blame and headline hunting. We have pursued that approach to its smoldering, tragic conclusion.

Enough. A thousand times enough.

Rise now to the tragedy we have created — as this nation has risen in unity and determination to every crisis in our history.

So we welcome the press releases and the hearings and the public grief. But do not turn to the sterile, self-serving, self-deceiving arguments that created this tragedy. These are indeed the times that try men’s souls — and reveal our character. The Granite Hills Hotshots passed that test — now the wheel turns to us.

Thomas Paine said it perfectly back at the beginning of things: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”


Ronald Hamric 3 years, 6 months ago

As a retired firefighter who has experienced my share of wildfires, I would like a little clarification as to this particular point made in this article, ie. " But this tragedy grew inexorably from a century of overgrazing, mindless fire suppression and a refusal to manage the forest in a sustainable way."

I'll start with the "overgrazing" accusation. In the locale where I plied my fire service career, herds of goats and other livestock were then and currently used to reduce the volume of flashy fuels and chapparel that exist in much of the West. Like any approach, it has to be targeted and managed to the degree that it doesn't cause yet other problems, such as erosion, but it is a viable source of fuel reduction.

"Mindless fire suppression". Was personally a part of that as it was the "preferred approach" for so many decades. The horror as miles of beautiful forests and it's inhabitants were turned into ash was more than many were willing to accept and those in the decision position simply responded to voices of supposed "nature lovers". Smokey the Bear ring a bell? I thought so. As so often happens, emotions trump science in a world where folks enjoy such a high standard of living that they have time to zero in on issues that they really have little understanding or first hand experience with. We are still responding with that approach on so many issues in our country today. My recommendations? Get the politicians and the special interest groups out of the picture and let those specialists who have dedicated their lives to such efforts, resolve the problems.

"Refusal to manage the forests in a sustainable way". Refer to "mindless fire suppression" for my views on that statement. The two are not mutually exclusive.

So, although I agree with the underlying premise of this article, I would hope the author would enlighten us as to their expertise and experience in these matters as it would go a long way to giving credibility to what was written and the position taken.


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