The Fire Next Time (2009)
Dick asked me if I knew where we might find a map showing all of the timberland ownerships in northern Idaho – not just an ordinary map, but one that had an overlay that shows at risk federal forest lands – these being lands that pose an insect, disease or fire risk to adjacent private and state timberland owners.
23 MINUTE READ
Intermountain Forestry Association
Annual Meeting, December 10, 2009
Coeur d’Alene Resort, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Keynote address by James D. Petersen
Author and co-founder of the non-profit Evergreen Foundation
Every speaker lusts after the dream assignment I have this afternoon. I’ve been told that I can talk about anything I want to talk about, so long as I do not talk for more than 45 minutes.
For a time, I thought seriously about bringing you an essay on my fly fishing exploits on the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River, where I first learned to fish with flies more than 50 years ago.
Then I got to thinking about Serena Carlson’s hope that I would say a few things about the Great 1910 Fire.
This led to my thinking about my family, for reasons that will soon be obvious to you.
Of course, I knew I’d need to say a few things about the lumber industry, but I didn’t want to say too much for fear of depressing you during the Christmas season.
Then I remembered a question that my friend Dick Bennett asked me recently, and suddenly everything fell into place.
Dick asked me if I knew where we might find a map showing all of the timberland ownerships in northern Idaho – not just an ordinary map, but one that had an overlay that shows at risk federal forest lands – these being lands that pose an insect, disease or fire risk to adjacent private and state timberland owners.
I thought for sure that the Forest Service’s Region 1 office in Missoula would have one, but they don’t.
How strange that the very public agency charged with protecting our region’s great forests from catastrophic fire would not have such a map.
A friend who works in the regional office told me that the Forest Service’s perpetual planning process is now so far out of synch – from one national forest to the next – that no composite map of our region’s forests exists. Imagine owning millions of acres of forestland in Idaho and Montana and not having a composite map that showed you where your ownership ended and your neighbor’s began.
I don’t know about you, but I find this miscue a little troubling.
If we had the map Dick hoped I would find we could illustrate the problem with the very cavalier attitude the federal government seems to be taking toward dying national forests and resulting big fires.
Among other things, we could show the public what will happen when the Day of Reckoning finally arrives – and we have another 1910-scale fire or perhaps something even larger, which I think is entirely possible.
I’ll explain why in a moment, but first let me say that wildfire in the West’s great forests has been a preoccupation of mine since we started Evergreen Magazine in 1985.
I don’t know of any other publication that has beat this drum longer - or as loudly - as we have. Nor do I know of another writer who has written as much about wildfires - or thought as much about them - as I have.
My obsession with fire – and I think it is an obsession – is an old one.
When I was a boy, my late father was water superintendent – and later construction superintendent - for the old Bunker Hill and Sullivan Mining and Concentrating Company at Kellogg. For reasons I never understood, that meant that dad was also the company’s Fire Chief. And since the company provided all of Kellogg’s municipal water, that also meant that dad was at least partly responsible for putting out fires all over town.
Suffice it to say, I got to go on a lot of fire runs when I was a kid. I assure you, you have not lived until you have ridden in an open air, Type 75 American LaFrance fire truck at 55-miles-an-hour in a blizzard – at night.
Those of you who were once boys – or still are – will recognize that this state of euphoria is about as close to heaven as a boy can possibly get without actually going there. And if your father is the one who was driving that old Type 75 through a blizzard - as mine was - you are pretty damned sure that he is also at least ten feet tall.
Of course, I did not go to every fire my dad fought. I slept through the fire that burned down an entire block in uptown Kellogg around Christmastime in 1954. When I got up in the morning, my mother and my maternal grandparents were sitting in the living room watching the last of a smoke plume disappear into a winter sunrise. Mother told me through worried eyes that my father had been gone all night. When he got home around noon he was too tired to talk. I would have to wait for my report from the scene.
But it was my grandmother – my dad’s mother – who first regaled me with stories about big fires. She was a survivor of the biggest fire in our country’s history – the Great 1910 Fire. And when you are seven, and your grandmother tells you that she braved the biggest fire in our nation’s history, you are pretty sure she is some sort of national hero and must have the medals to prove it tucked away in some secret drawer.
But if you could have seen my grandmother you would have immediately noticed that there was a great incongruity in my image of her. She did not look anything like a big time firefighter, or even like someone who had escaped a big fire.
She was tall and elegant and never left her house without gloves and a ladies’ hat – and she wore high-heeled shoes – even when we walked up to Manito Park, which was 45 blocks from her apartment house on West Fourth in Spokane. I consoled myself in the knowledge that anyone who could walk 45 blocks in a pair of high heels must have been tough as hell when they were younger – and maybe still was.
My grandparents – Paul and Ivy Petersen – built their first house [my grandmother named it No. 1] at the confluence of Eagle and Pritchard creeks in the summer of 1908, only weeks after they were married in Spokane. If you have driven up the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River, then up Pritchard Creek to Murray, you have driven right past where No. 1 stood. My grandfather built his first sawmill next to No. 1. He would later build two more mills, including a big one for the Weyerhaeuser’s at Kelso, Washington.
In 1908, there were only two ways to get up the North Fork. You could walk a river grade trail from Kingston, just off present-day Interstate 90, or you could take the train – a narrow gauge that ran upriver from Kingston. I don’t recall how far it went, but I know that my dad’s cousin, Sig, who came from Norway with my grandfather, was the engineer and that the old Jack Waite Mine, which was up the West Fork of Eagle Creek, was on his route.
In later years he worked for the Morbeck’s. If any of you are students of the history of early day northern Idaho lumber companies, you know that their Linfor Lumber Company was a big deal. And if you have wondered where the word “Linfor” came from, it was an acronym for Little North Fork Lumber Company. You may remember that the mill for which the company was named was just above the confluence of the Little North Fork and the main stem of the river.
I have photographs of my grandfather’s first mill. It doesn’t look like much, but it was all that he had, so I can’t begin to comprehend what he must have felt on the afternoon of August 20, 1910. That was the afternoon when all hell broke loose in northern Idaho: Day 1 of the three-day holocaust we still call “the Great 1910 Fire.”
Much has been written about the fire, not just in Evergreen Magazine but also in many other publications by other fine writers who were drawn to it as I was – all of us like moths to a flame.
I’ll get back to some of what has been written about the fire in a few minutes, but first let me tell you what my tall, stately grandmother did as my grandfather and his mill crew worked furiously to set up what in modern parlance we would call a “defensible perimeter” around his mill – at best an exercise in futility.
My grandmother busied herself heading up the evacuation of the Eagle town site. I picture the evacuation as being a little like what happened on the mortally wounded Titanic. The men stayed behind to face the watery unknown while the women and children headed for the lifeboats – though in this instance, the lifeboats were railroad flatcars parked beside the mill.
With my grandmother in the lead, the women – wives and what have you, including whores from neighboring Murray - loaded their worldly possessions – children included - on flatcars, then covered the humps and bumps with bed sheets they had soaked in Eagle Creek, then signaled the engineer – and off they all went, headed downriver and into a firestorm.
Somewhere in my family mementos there is a scrapbook that contains an interview the Forest Service did with my grandmother and other survivors sometime in the early 1950s. She told her interviewer that the bed sheets soon dried in the August afternoon heat and that when hot embers from the fire began to rain down on the train, the engineer stopped just long enough for the women to run down to the river and re-soak the sheets. She could not remember how many times they repeated this harrowing ritual before they got to Kingston – some 45 miles downriver - but it was quite a few.
I cannot recall if my grandmother went from Kingston to Kellogg, to board the Union Pacific to Harrison or if she went by stern-wheeler from Kingston down the Coeur d’Alene River to Harrison. But I can tell you that she was back up the river in a matter of days helping my grandfather re-start the mill.
I do not know many contemporary women who could fill Ivy Petersen’s high-heeled shoes. She was fearless, and tough as nails. I know this because as my grandfather lay dying of pneumonia in the summer of 1928, it was she who insisted on learning how to tap his chest so she could drain off the fluid in which he was slowly drowning. If she was going to lose him so soon in their life together, she would let him go with dignity, and in their own time.
Although my grandmother sold my grandfather’s sawmilling interests as quickly as she could – no small feat during the Great Depression - there was a time when I believe she may have been the only woman in northern Idaho history to ever own and operate a sawmill, but she could do it because, as you now know, she was fearless and tough as any man in town: hat, gloves and high heels to boot.
Yet in some ways my grandmother was no match for her sister, my great aunt, Nora. Aunt Nora was in Avery when the 1910 fire blew up in the Joe Country south and west of Wallace. If you know anything about the fire’s path of destruction, you know that the Joe between Avery and Wallace was pretty much Ground Zero in the biggest forest fire in American history. Normally, Aunt Nora would have been in Harrison, where she worked in the old Russell and Pugh Lumber Company. My great grandfather, Nora’s father, was Russell and Pugh’s head saw filer for many years, which meant that he was a big man in Harrison, Idaho. I still have the beautiful gold watch the company gave him when he retired.
I do not know what Aunt Nora did for Russell and Pugh, but I can tell you that in life she loved three things: straight whiskey, good cigars and big time loggers, and she did not much care in which order they came.
I also do not know what Aunt Nora was doing in Avery – or maybe it’s that I do not want to think about what she may have been doing in Avery – but she was one of the “lucky” ones who escaped on a train bound for Missoula.
I have put the word “lucky” in quotes because their luck nearly ran out in a tunnel on the Idaho-Montana divide. The engineer had stopped the train in a tunnel thinking it was the safest place to be in a fire storm. But the tunnel soon filled with smoke and he realized that carbon monoxide gas – which is odorless and tasteless - might soon kill everyone on board. So he made a run for it – across a burning trestle.
When Aunt Nora first told me her harrowing tale sometime in the early 1950s, I asked her a question that revealed as much about my future calling as it did about her. The budding journalist in me wanted to know what it was like starring into a seeming bottomless smoke-filled ravine chasm into which she and hundreds of other passengers would have surely and quickly vanished if the bridge failed.
“Well,” she declared, in her well rehearsed Jack Benny imitation, “it looked like the Gates of Hell had just opened up beneath us – and I damned near pissed my pants!”
It would be an understatement to say that I had never heard another woman say that she had damned near pissed her pants. But then my great aunt Nora, who relished a good bar fight, lacked my stately grandmother’s grace.
What is not an understatement is Nora’s later recollection that when she got off the train in Missoula she could see where the varnish on the outside of the wooden passenger car in which she had ridden to safety had melted and run down the sides of the car like droplets of water running down a window. Elers Koch, who began his career as a Forest Service Ranger when rangers still rode horses and carried side arms, confirmed the same scene in his memoir, “Forty Years a Forester.”
Despite Aunt Nora’s countless trysts with big-time loggers, she later married a Princeton University economics professor by the name of William Walker Wallace. After he retired, they lived in Spokane for many years. He was a very proper man who spent his mornings reading the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
Whenever I visited he required that I sit with him, so that we could jointly read both newspapers and discuss what we’d read. It was a monumental task, not because I did not enjoy reading [I did], but because Uncle Willie ate fresh garlic the way I ate chocolate bars. There are no words to describe the odor that oozed from his pores.
I soon learned that Uncle Willie – a moniker he hated that my father had bestowed on him – had long ago concluded that the less he knew about my Aunt Nora’s past, the better. Knowing this, I would always find a way to goad her into again telling me how she tip-toed past the Gates of Hell on a burning railroad trestle and what she thought, which always ended with her declaring – in a loud and triumphant voice - that she had damned near pissed her pants – at which point my Uncle Willie and his numerous academic triumphs would silently rise from their easy chair and go outside to mow the lawn. My recollection is that he mowed the lawn every day when I visited. At least the garlic went outside with him.
Earlier I mentioned that we’ve written about the West’s great wildfires in Evergreen many times since our founding in 1985. I won’t bore you with the reasons why the West’s forests are burning in horrific wildfires because you already know the story as well as I do. But if you are one of the fortunate few who saved their copies of The West is Burning Up, our first big 1910 story – portions of which still grace the Idaho Forest Products Commission website - you know that the fire made front page news all across the nation.
Even subtracting for the sensationalist headlines that were standard fare in newspapers of that era, it was a disaster of such proportion that most people had trouble comprehending its scale. I know of three good books that tell the story – including Steve Pyne’s Year of the Fires. But I prefer Hal Rothman’s I’ll Never Fight Fire with My Bare Hands Again, and Betty Spencer’s The Big Blowup. Both are fast-paced tales filled with colorful anecdotes.
But for my money the best book ever written about big fires is Norman Maclean’s masterful Young Men and Fire, a white-knuckle thriller about a grass fire tucked away inside a not very large forest fire that burned in Mann Gulch not far from Great Falls, Montana on the afternoon of August 5, 1949.
Mclean is best known for A River Runs Through It, a poignant story I read every winter because his growing up years in western Montana were very much like mine in northern Idaho. We both grew up in families where fly rods were revered as fine instruments and men retreated to big rivers to practice the fine art of casting to trout that were too large to fit into reed baskets. But in our family the best fly fisherman was a woman - another great aunt who ran the Morbeck’s company store in Pinehurst. She was the best fisherman I’ve ever seen.
From a conversation I had several years ago with John Maclean, Norman’s son, I know that his father’s obsession with the fire in Mann Gulch - a steep ravine overlooking the Missouri River - began before the embers were cold. Thirteen firefighters, including 12 smokejumpers who had been flown from their base in Missoula, died when the wind-driven blaze swept over the top of them.
Two jumpers, Bob Sallee and Walter Rumsey, raced the firestorm to a rock outcropping and won. But their fire boss, a very cool customer named Wagner Dodge, realized he could not outrun it, so he calmly set fire to the grass around him and lay down in its burnt out circle. Then he tried to persuade the rest of his terrified crew to lie down beside him, but they are too scared to comprehend what he wanted them to do, so they raced on up the hill and disappeared into undulating waves of heat, from whence they soon rose into the August afternoon sky.
Dodge later recalled that the force of the fire lifted him off the ground several times before it passed beyond him. I have no doubt that it did because the force also blew the watches off the wrists of several smokejumpers who were running up the hill behind Sallee and Rumsey. Their badly burned bodies – some with watches on their wrists, frozen in time by searing heat - were recovered by rescuers the following morning. It was the worst disaster that had ever befallen the venerable Forest Service, until July of 1994 when 14 firefighters were killed on Storm King Mountain near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. An Oregon friend lost his daughter there. She had wanted to be a smokejumper, just like her dad, and for a short time she was.
Eighty-six or 87 lost their lives in the Great 1910 Fire. Many were skid row bums and winos the Forest Service had hastily recruited along Trent Avenue in Spokane. Most did not even have proper footwear. But it hardly matters what shoes you are wearing when you are curled up in a ball in a hole in the ground waiting to be roasted alive, which is what happened to one crew that was trapped on Setzer Creek, a St. Joe tributary. And when you are curled up in a ball in an inferno waiting for Eternity’s arrival, that is how they find you: curled up in a ball, charred beyond earthly form.
Another crew was lost when the log cabin in which they were huddled suddenly burst like a roman candle. I have often wondered if it burned to the ground in the usual manner, or if it simply glowed white hot until all that was left was a tracing of grey ash in the outline of an old cabin.
All but one member of one crew spent the night in a creek, where they were joined by bears that were also trying to escape the fire. The other unfortunate soul was trapped a few feet away beneath a fallen tree. His terrified crew members got to listen to his screams while fire slowly consumed him. It is said that when we die, the last sense to leave us is our sense of hearing, which means that he could hear the nearby rushing water that would have saved his life had he not been trapped by a falling tree. Here, for obvious reasons, I picture the Titanic orchestra playing “Nearer My God to Thee.”
Of course, nearly everyone knows the story of how Ranger Ed Pulaski became a big-time hero for ordering his crew – at gunpoint – to take refuge in the portal of the War Eagle Mine. They did and were saved, though when they stumbled into Wallace the following morning they looked like they had been to hell and back – and in fact they had. Most recovered, but one spent the rest of his life in an insane asylum.
In two terrifying day and nights, more than 3 million acres of timber and grassland in northern Idaho and western Montana was incinerated. It is all very difficult to comprehend until you realize that the Great 1910 Fire was not one big fire when it started. It was several hundred smaller fires that were blown together by the force of 80-100 mile an hour winds that blew in from the Palouse on the afternoon of August 20. It was the wind that transformed all of those little fires into one big blowtorch.
Along the Idaho-Montana border, south of the Lookout Pass ski area, there are still spots were nothing grows. Heat from the fire melted the organic layer in which early succession plants normally take root after a fire. The area is windswept, so it may be hundreds of years before the slowly accumulating soil is again deep enough to support plant life.
People who know that I know a little bit about the 1910 Fire sometimes ask me if I think there is another fire like it in our future. The odds certainly favor it. All we need are a few hundred spot fires – probably set by lightning – and a big wind. The stars in this terrible constellation have been in near-perfect alignment several times in recent years.
But The Fire Next Time will be different from the 1910 Fire in two very significant ways. Many more lives will be lost and far more property will be destroyed, simply because there are many thousands more people living in northern Idaho and western Montana than there were in 1910. I also think The Fire Next Time will be a bigger fire than the one my family escaped, simply because there is more dead and dying timber to burn than there was in 1910.
This brings me back to Dick Bennett’s hope that I will be able find a good set of maps we can use to show the public what will be lost in The Fire Next Time - because the losses will extend far beyond Region One’s national forests, which are no longer managed for any perceptible reason. It will also destroy adjacent state and private timberlands – lands on which every company represented here today depends for its economic lifeblood.
It’s bad enough that the federal government no longer even bothers to go through the motions of managing the public’s timber, to say nothing of its municipal watersheds, fish and wildlife habitat and recreation lands. Now, through dumbfounding neglect, it is also endangering other economically and environmentally important state and private timberland ownerships.
I think this is criminal, but until or if the Congress decides it is time to stuff the litigation genie back in the bottle, there is not a damned thing that any of us can do except watch and wait for The Fire Next Time.
In western Montana, I am told that state and federal fire officials have already huddled behind closed doors to discuss what to do about a hypothetical fire that could conceivably burn from Seeley Lake, 90 miles south of where I live, all the way to Dillon – a straight-line distance of 125 miles through dead and dying mixed conifer forests that belong mostly to the American people.
More than a dozen communities lay in the path of such a fire – but if the fire should suddenly veer to the east, it would take out Helena, our state capital, in a heartbeat. In fact, it is now possible to stand in our governor’s office and see dead trees on the surrounding hills. The mortality in mixed conifer forests in the mountains west of Helena is breathtaking, and it gets worse the further west you go - over McDonald Pass and on toward Clearwater Junction and Seeley Lake.
But if our hypothetical fire turns west, and if it is accompanied by the same big winds that transformed the 1910 fire into a blast furnace, there is really nothing to stop it until it gets to Hell’s Canyon on the Snake River between Idaho and Oregon or Washington. And if it jumped the canyon, it very likely would not stop until it got into eastern Oregon rangelands or eastern Washington farmland.
Could such a conflagration really occur? No one can say for sure, but what I find so dismaying about the possibility is our government’s smoke and mirrors response to the increasing risk that such a fire could occur. We go through the pretense of thinning in the so-called “wooey.” That’s government jabberwocky for the Wildland Urban Interface, the perimeters around hundreds of small communities that dot the rural West. Most of these towns were recruited by the Forest Service back in the days when the government was hell-bent on settling the rural West. Now it seems the government is hell-bent on running everyone out. But that’s a story for another time.
What I also find astonishing about these “wooey” thinning projects is our government’s wink and nod claim that these inconsequential treatments are actually capable of stopping a big fire that is moving fast in dead and dying timber. Let’s remember that big fires often create their own weather – and are quite capable of launching burning chunks of wood more than a mile ahead of their courses. Let’s also remember that these fires are capable of outrunning birds in flight. I know - having seen the sad result in the charred aftermath of more than one big fire I’ve covered over the last 25 years.
But my eye witness accounts of incinerated birds pale when compared to Norman Maclean’s beautifully written account of a dying deer he encountered whose scorched eyes slowly dimmed like a fading incandescent light – from white, to red, then black.
The best I can come up with is a picture of the bleached bones of several elk that Pat Connell found after the big 2000 Bitterroot Fire. The skeletons lay in a circle with the rack of a bull elk facing in the direction from which the fire came. Pat concluded the bull was protecting his harem and had faced down the fire in the hope of stopping it in its tracks.
So mark me down as one of those crackpots who thinks that the next 1910 scale fire is only going to slow down in Seeley Lake or Helena or Kamiah or McCall long enough to kill everything in sight, including young men and women that our government will send into harm’s way to try to stop it. And they too will have their watches blown off.
In Young Men and Fire, Norman Mclean marked the places where they fell in Mann Gulch as the Stations of the Cross. If any of those who died in Mann Gulch were Catholic, I assure you they did not have time to get out their Rosaries. Mclean figured their last thoughts were of their mothers.
Forget forest fires for a moment. Next time you feel the urge to commune with nature, stop by Cabinet Gorge Dam on the Clark Fork River near Noxon, Montana. Stand on the overlook and gaze up at the sheer rock walls that rise from river’s edge. What is it – a half-mile or more to the tops of those rocky cliffs? Now look upriver at the yawning canyon walls. For all practical purpose, they extend to a point east of Superior, Montana before they break out into a big valley. But the valley slams shut again at Hellgate, just east of downtown Missoula. Now the canyon continues all the way to Drummond, half-way to Butte.
Now gaze back at the dam itself and try to imagine that Cabinet Gorge is not the first dam to stand where it stands today. Some 10,000 years ago, there was an ice dam somewhere near where you are standing. When it broke, it drained Lake Missoula, a vast inland sea that covered most of western Montana. Some geologists think it may have been the biggest lake on earth.
When the dam broke, it set off what may have been the largest flood in earth’s history. There is a theory which says that the cascading waters of Lake Missoula gouged out the Columbia Gorge east of Portland, Oregon.
Imagine the thunder of a crashing wall of water perhaps a mile high. How fast was it moving on its rush across northern Idaho: 60 miles an hour, a hundred miles an hour? I have no idea, but it surely swept away everything in its path, including whatever forests were here.
I read somewhere that the water standing in what is now downtown Portland was 600 feet deep. We cannot know this for sure, but if you are flying west over northern Idaho, and the angle of the sun is just right, you can still see alluvial fans – fingers of topsoil many miles long - stretching west over the Palouse Country and on toward Ritzville, Washington. The fingers point in the direction of the greatest flood in earth’s history. They are all that is left of the subsiding flood waters.
If nature is capable of such terrifying force, she can sure as hell burn down every standing tree in western Montana and northern Idaho in a matter of days. We ought not to tempt her by arrogantly ignoring our responsibilities for caring for these great forests the best way we know how; but we are not doing it – and anyone who tells you that we are is either badly misinformed or a liar.
But lest I lead you astray as to who the liars are, I want to say here – as I have many times before – that I believe there are still many good, honest people working for the Forest Service in Region 1. But their hands are tied by federal judges who don’t know the first damned thing about forests or forestry, and cynical politicians who don’t see any votes in the death of the West’s forests or our communities.
Next August marks the 100th anniversary of the Great 1910 Fire. I imagine there will be lots of commemorations, and I suppose the Forest Service is already up to its armpits in the planning. It’s too bad the agency isn’t also thinking about what it could do to reduce the risk of such a fire occurring again, but we live in strange times, filled with all sorts of loony ideas about naturalness and returning the West to pre-European conditions. It is an unachievable pipe dream, but that too is a story that will have to wait for another time because it is much too long to tell here this afternoon.
Whatever celebrations are planned, I will not be there. On the afternoon of August 20, you will find me standing at the confluence of Eagle and Pritchard Creeks – probably alone – trying to deconstruct the chaos that surely engulfed my grandfather and his crew as they prepared to march into hell, and my grandmother stoically loading her earthly possessions on a railroad flatcar for her own ride into hell. And when the swirl of those long ago events gets close to overwhelming me, I will haul out a couple of good cigars and a bottle of Jack Daniels and drink a toast to my great Aunt Nora and all of the big time loggers she entertained. She was a beautiful mystery in the same way that gin clear trout streams are beautiful mysteries.
Then I will put together my favorite No. 3 Sage fly rod and go fishing in what Norman Mclean called “the Artic half-light,” where all existence fades to a being with one’s soul and memories and the sounds of a river, and a four-count rhythm, and a hope that the fish will rise.
“Eventually,” Mclean wrote, “all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”
I, too, am haunted by waters, especially those that long ago washed over the Great 1910 Fire and all that it meant. There is a chapter in my upcoming book that explains what other 1910 authors have either not understood or simply wanted to avoid. In it, you will learn that in my opinion Bill Greeley, and not Gifford Pinchot, was the greatest chief the Forest Service ever had – and you will learn that it was Greeley who finally convinced the Congress that the West’s early lumbermen would not replant their cutover timberlands until the federal government assumed its share of responsibility for battling big wildfires that were then sweeping through the West’s forests.
You will also learn that Bill Greeley was District One’s regional forester in 1910 – and that the fire and all of the killing it did changed both his life and the course of forestry and sawmilling in the western United States. No one did more to promote forestry on both public and private timberlands in the West than Bill Greeley, no one.
I will finish the manuscript for The Independents this winter. Hopefully, you will buy a copy when the book is published. I am very pleased with the manuscript, and profoundly grateful to Aaron Jones for putting food on our table while I have worked to bring this very complex story to life.
I also want to thank my old friend, Dick Bennett, for his continuing support for the Evergreen Foundation. His generosity has gone a long way toward insuring that we will live to fight another day.
Thank you very much for inviting me to join you today. May this Christmas season bring you great joy and may the coming New Year bring all of us a few steps closer to renewed hope and prosperity.