The Forest Service and other special interest groups would like us to believe that forest fires can no longer be put out because of global warming. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Western Montana temperatures today are about 8 degrees Fahrenheit colder than what Northern California temperatures were 50 years ago, when fires were still routinely put out. How could that be? Do the red flag days, when fires really can’t be put out, now last all summer long? No, not that either. July was hotter than normal this year in Western Montana, but ask any hay farmer how often his hay crop got rained on in July, and he will tell you that it happened a lot. No, the hot, windy, dry days are still broken up by cool, calm, damp days in which fires can be put out -- if there was a desire to do so.
The problem is that the Forest Service’s policy toward fires in remote areas has changed. After the big fires along the Montana-Idaho border in 1910 the policy became, “Put Them Out.” But that policy in turn began to change when foresters began to think that the suppression was too effective. They worried that forest fuel loads were building up to excessive levels because there was no longer enough fire!
Now the policy has swung to a new extreme. Now the policy in remote areas is, “Let Them Burn!” Now they try to burn as many acres of forest each year as the weather will allow! A glaring exception to this policy was reported in The Montana Standard on August 27. The report stated that the Conrow fire near Whitehall would be a “suppression” fire! Distinguishing it, you might notice, from the other fires around Western Montana. (How is it with this so called extreme global warming -- just over 2 degrees F. in the last 70 years -- that they could do that when they claim they couldn‘t do it on all these other fires?)
In the news, we read that, in remote areas, they only build fires lines along the fire if it is encroaching on something they don’t want to burn. Now they move back many miles and build contingency lines, waiting for the fire to come to them! When fires naturally die down at night they pull off all serious fire crews! They do not want to put them out! They want to tend them. And we get to breathe their smoke. All summer long!
Please, don’t take my word for this. Look it up. The Forest Service’s stated policy in remote area is to reduce as much of the excess fuels as possible. But, in the media, it's all the fault of global warming. “Our hands are tied,“ they claim! I, personally, have heard two different Forest Service employees say, “Who are we to think we should be able to put these fires out?” Recently, an editorial by George Wuerthner had the headline, “Only Mother Nature can put out big wildfires.” Shame on these people! The Forest Service wants to burn unlimited acres without facing up to the consequences from the smoke breathing public, so they hide behind global warming. The special interest representatives like Wuerthner want to stop or severely limit logging, so they promote that agenda with any cockamamie argument that will get them media coverage.
The Forest Service circumvents the restrictions of the Clean Air Act by allowing natural-caused fires to burn uncontrolled. These summer long forest fires are their uncontrolled-controlled burns, and should fall within the restrictions of the act.
The actual grunts on the ground do an excellent job when a fire is approaching buildings, and they are allowed to fight it. It is the administrators who normally won’t let them do their jobs. I’m sure Governor Bullock could replace a few fire bosses and have these fires out in short order. Governor ...
-- Don Heffington, Butte, is a mountain trekker and businessman with interests in Missoula, Butte, Dillon, and Livingston.