President’s Message

Our Orphaned Landscapes Are Going Their Own Way And Burning

President George Hollister

Much is, and has been said about our orphaned public lands burning for some of us to directly experience, and all of us to breath. A very few feel this is the way it should be. And there are many excuses, but no realistic way forward except more of the same. True, changes in climate are an important factor for the intensely destructive mega fires, but if we live surrounded by gasoline there is always the risk that gasoline will ignite and burn intensely whether the weather is hot and dry, or very hot and dry. So do what we want to alter a changing climate, the catastrophic burning will persist as long as we continue to live in the middle of unmanaged landscapes where fuel loads for fires increase without human mitigation, and involvement.

Thirteen thousand years ago, a very short time ago, humans came to North America. Within three thousand years, humans became the Keystone Species after a period of resource exploitation and depletion. We took over that position from the megafauna that proceeded us. Giant Ground Sloths, Mastodons, Mammoths, and Short Eared Bears dictated the nature of the vegetation, and the ecosystem in that pre-human past. Lighting fires did happen, but the vegetation available to burn was likely much less due to the persistent grazing of these giant mammals. Fires from lightning were likely much less intense. Humans came, and change came with them.

The megafauna became extinct, and human caused fire was introduced. Human enterprise learned to live in this new self created environment that they depended on for survival. These humans were of the land, as most people back then were. They learned methods for landscape management that benefited them through direct involvement. Fire became an important tool, and it was used annually, and extensively. There were few abstract concepts regarding land management to these first humans in North America. Most of the environment they lived in and depended on was a result of human action, and learning from the observed
effect.

When European humans came to North America 500 years ago, there was new technology, and big changes again. Humans as a Keystone Species continued but was shifted to these “new comers”, and these people were also mostly of the land. There was a time of primary resource exploitation and depletion as was seen in the distant past. Persistent human caused fire continued as a tool to shape landscapes. But along the way something new developed, large cities. Cities were made up of people who were not of the land. They were separated from it, and they eventually dominated. Increasingly fire was seen as being only destructive.

To city people today, landscape management is an abstract concept. Landscapes are supposed to be like city parks, or a back yard where there is no dust, or mud, or fecal matter, and the water is always clear and potable. The work to maintain these city landscapes is done by others than the people responsible for them. These same city people also jointly control large portions of public land and are responsible for the management of these public lands. Human enterprise, and landscape management of these lands is now viewed as a sin. A philosophy of separating humanity from the land is popular. So this is where we find ourselves. A rejection of the role of humans as a Keystone Species, and the responsibility that goes with it. That land is orphaned, and now burns. I don’t offer a solution, and see on going hand ringing by everyone, city and rural folks alike. At this point, the situation is an intractable one. We could do something, but a change in philosophy will be required from the majority of people responsible for the land. That is a difficult thing to do.