How to prevent most forest fires
The horrible forest fires ravaging the area around Los Alamos, New Mexico demonstrate how poorly the United States manages it woodlands.
Those who have lived or traveled around in Germany usually find the lush forests remarkable. Given the fact that millions of tons of artillery shells and bombs in two world wars have pummeled the German forests, some visitors are astonished to find any trees at all. Yet, they are there in abundance today.
If you take a walk in the German woods, the first thing you notice is the lack of underbrush or fallen timber. The floor of a German forest is as clean as a laboratory floor. The reason the forest floor is so clean is because Germanyís forest management program mandates that every tree or twig that falls must be harvested and put to commercial use right away.
For that reason, there is no dangerous fuel supply to build up and sustain forest fires.In the almost ten years this observer lived in western Europe, I cannot recall seeing or even hearing of a forest fire. The kinds of forest fires that plague America are unheard of.
Ironically, the blame for the sorry, unkempt state of Americaís forests lies with the environmentalist movement Ė the tree huggers. In their blind, unthinking drive to preserve our forests and keep them pristine, the environmentalists work night and day to keep commercial operators from harvesting anything.
There are millions of acres of Jackstraw Pines in this country. Severe winds sometimes rip through our forests toppling Jackstraw Pines and other commercially valuable timber like dominoes. By any rational standard, commercial loggers should be let into those areas to harvest those nature-fallen trees while they still have some commercial value. Oh no! The tree-huggers pressure Congress to pass restrictive laws and the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior eagerly issue regulations that forbid the harvesting of these timberland treasures forever. Or, they delay the harvesting for so long that the timber rots and the harvesting is no longer commercially viable.
As a result, this enormous amount of fuel for forest fires builds up. Then, either lightning or campers or the U.S. government itself starts forests fires that get out of control just like the one blazing around Los Alamos.
The intentions of the tree-hugger crowd are good. Their methods of preserving and promoting our forests are just unrealistic. The Law of Unintended Consequences is always effect and seems to have a special love for the environmentalists.
For example, the environmentalists forced the passage of laws and regulations mandating the installation of the 1.6 gallon, low-flush toilets in America. They thought the old 3.5-gallon toilet wasted water. Unfortunately, a flush of 1.6 gallons quite often isnít sufficient to do the job. As a result, many people end up flushing their toilets two or three times. The net result is either no water savings or a net loss of water. Some people actually go to Canada or Mexico and smuggle in the old-style toilets. As I said, itís the Law of Unintended Consequences at work.
In like measure, by preventing the commercial harvesting of fallen timber, the tree-huggers end up with a net loss of trees due to needless forest fires. They try to cover up these losses with propaganda about how forest fires purify the forest and that the eventual regrowth is better. That is pure bunk.
Go to Yellowstone and you can see that it will take a century to restore what was destroyed there. The great Yellowstone National Park forest fire was the direct result of a huge build up of fuel provided by unharvested fallen timber and underbrush.
I know our German friends are scratching their heads and wondering how the supposedly oh-so-smart Americans could let forest fires like Yellowstone and Los Alamos happen. Well, the answer is: when it comes to forest management, we are a bunch of Dummkopfs.
William Hamilton is a nationally syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today.