Public concern always peaks in September – the worst fire month of the year – and it vanishes the moment the smoke gives way to sunny fall skies. Lost lives, homes, and towns are forgotten.
“The time has come for society to consider alternatives to fires so large that they escape suppression efforts, often with deadly consequences. If we don’t like the fire trajectory we are on – and I don’t – shouldn’t we try something different?
“Just imagine it,” Sheley wrote of his yesteryears… “Constant attack from ground and air. Most wildfires could be quickly extinguished for a fraction of today’s cost. Lives and property saved, and forests protected. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?”
The Forest Service’s boots-on-the-ground ranks have been decimated over the last 15 years. Lots of new people will need to be hired and trained. It will take at least a decade to restore the skill sets needed to do the necessary forest restoration work at the required pace and scale. Fire ecologists I know tell me we have a 30-year window before wildfire takes what we have not treated. If we accept 90 million acres restored as our 30-year target, we need to thin three million acres annually.
We need to build a more diverse audience composed of people who recreate in our national forests and people who would if they didn’t live thousands of miles away in places like Manhattan and Washington, D.C. Somehow, we need to find ways to close the cultural chasms that have distanced urban American from its rural roots – our shared heritage.