Tales from the German Woods
If you take a walk through the German woods at night, the chances of tripping over any deadfall debris are somewhere between slim and none. Why? Because prudent forest management keeps the German woods free of deadfall debris.
Some of the harvested deadfall is chopped up and used by the economically challenged to keep warm. But most of the deadfall is put through environmentally friendly processes that convert it to wood pellets, particle board, kitchen cabinets and even fine furniture veneers.
Thus, the poor, the environment and the economy all benefit, and we never read about German forest fires like those that have consumed huge chunks of Yellowstone National Park, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and, once again, Southern California. Why? Because forests, where the deadfall is harvested, are far less likely to turn into out-of-control, raging infernos before firefighters can gain the upper hand.
Yet, when lighting started the great Yellowstone Fire of 1988, the mantra from the Environmental Left was: Fire is good. Fire is nature’s way for reinvigorating the forest. Fire is better than allowing commercial interests to come in and profit from cleaning the forest floor.
Only when the flames were about to engulf the historic Old Faithful Lodge were the firefighters allowed in. But, by then, 1.4 million acres were already devastated and countless wild animals either burned to death or eventually starved.
Ironically, some of the celebrities evacuated from the recent Malibu fire are spokespersons for the Environmental Left. Cher, Barbra Streisand, Martin Sheen, Whoopi Goldberg, Sean Penn and Ted Danson come to mind. One wonders if they still think “fire is good.” Maybe, fire is only good in Yellowstone National Park.
Millionaire film producer, David Geffen, retains a private, fire-fighter crew to spray his Malibu home with fire-retarding foam. Obviously, that requires money and foresight.
Many of Colorado’s 21.8 million acres of forested land are littered with the “jackstraw” of blown- down Lodgepole Pines (Pinus contorta latifolia). Moreover, Colorado’s on-going pine-beetle epidemic has already turned millions of Lodgepoles into dried-out kindling, even before they fall to the forest floor.
Unless prudent steps are taken, lightning strikes, wind-snapped power lines or even arson will very likely set off an inferno that could not only destroy millions of Colorado’s still-living trees but also incinerate many of the homes built along what fire experts are calling: the Wildland-Urban Interface or WUI.
Gaining access to fight forest fires in Colorado is restricted by environmental restraints on road building within the rugged terrain that boasts 584 mountain peaks over 13,000 feet and 54 peaks over 14,000 feet. Thus, the proximity of good community airports to support the dropping of fire retardants is crucial.
Given enough heat, even prudent firescaping around homes in the WUI woods may not prevent even the most fire-resistant structures from bursting into flames. When the fire gets hot enough to consume the ambient oxygen, some human and animal victims will be found dead without a mark or a burn on their bodies --victims of suffocation.
Power companies, for very sound reasons, often shut off the electricity to fire-stricken areas. But, prior to mandatory evacuation some homeowners -- those fortunate enough to have their own water wells and emergency generators to provide power -- might be able to set roof- and deck-sprinkler systems into operation. Yet how many think ahead and can invest ahead that way?
So, it makes sense to clear out the deadfall mess that litters America’s forests. Even if that means some capitalistic entrepreneurs find ways to profit from forest clean-up, isn’t that better than the millions of tons of unfiltered carbon particles that are spewed into the atmosphere by forest fires? Isn’t that better than the mudslides that are the inevitable consequence of fire-denuded hillsides?
If we don’t learn from prudent forest practices like the Germans, the terrorists can just kick back, turn on al-Jazeera TV and watch the American West go up in flames.
Syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, William Hamilton, lived in West Germany for almost a decade. Writing as William Penn, he and his wife are the co-authors of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – two thrillers about terrorism directed against the United States.
©2007. William Hamilton.