Smokey the Bear: Ecoterrorist

images-1.jpgA few years back I spent some time touring the sites in the western national parks. Yellowstone was not that many years past that huge fire which destroyed half the trees in the forest. Our guide, however, put a more positive spin on that event: half the trees were spared and were still thriving.

What we learned was that fire is actually a friend of the earth. Fire eliminates choking scrub growth, removes old, dead, or diseased trees, and creates needed pasture land, expanding the habitat of the forest animals and allowing fresh new growth.

Another value of forest fires was obvious as you looked off in the distance to the heavily wooden mountains: half of the trees were brown not green. The pine bark beetles are destroying our forests. Ironically, it is the occasional forest fire that normally keeps the pine bark beetles in check.

Consider the proposition that Smokey the Bear is not a friend of the earth.

Even M*A*S*H finished its run

One of the most troublesome topics I encounter is the artificial continuation of a species, a language, a forest, or a Crayola color that has passed the threshold of usefulness to the continuation of the earth and its inhabitants.

We have all heard about the flock of rare birds that have been closely protected and now number in double digits, or of the obscure Indian language that only three people remember and no one is interested in learning so they can talk to their ancestors buried beneath the macadam of the Home Depot parking lot, or of a crayon color which is indistinguishable from at least three other crayon colors. (Crayola will always carry the shame of that light salmon stick called “Flesh”).

A few years ago I was touring in the American west and the guide made it clear that forest fires, predator animals, and animal poop are all vital to the health of the undeveloped range and were best seen as good things. Our guide had many interesting stories of how Man took over the management of the wild and made a complete mess of things, far worse than if they had just left it alone. He considered Smokey the Bear as an early terrorist who had brought great destruction to our country. Of course, there are tremendous outside pressures of the free, open parts of our country:  cattle ranchers insist on any animals capable of harming their herds being killed on sight for a healthy bounty; troublesome animals and plants being removed to less valuable lands so their traditional habitat can be stripped of all the wealth possible before it is returned to the wild;

New growth after the fire

The guide informed us, as we drove through the burned out sections of the forest and the hillsides full of dead and dying trees, that although the big forest fire had engulfed half of Yellowstone, there was still the other half left to enjoy. He also pointed out that the dry, dead trees were being killed by beetles that are normally controlled by forest fires, but Smokey the Bear has been so successful, the fires are down, the beetles are up, and the forest is dying just as fast as if Man had left it alone. He pointed out that regular fires open the forest and the glades become rich habitat for the animals:  moose, wapiti, bison, deer, etc. He also told us of the reintroduction of wolves into the park since it was discovered that the wolves were a vital part of the ecology, especially in controlling vermin (of course the wolves were earlier eliminated at the request of the ranchers that didn’t want them coming out of the protected forest to nosh on their sheep or beef).

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