The evening newscasts have been punctuated recently by
stories detailing the rash of fires occurring in the western U.S., and it is
frightening. Hundreds of thousands of acres are burning at a rapid pace while
homes and other private property stand at risk.
The loss of 19 firefighters in Arizona earlier this summer
is especially tragic. Their sacrifice serves as a jarring reminder of the danger
these public heroes put themselves in and the courage they exhibit as they stand
face to face with raging flames.
We all know that we should prevent forest fires: Smokey Bear
has been telling us that for years. But is he right?
Should we strive to keep flames away from our forests and
extinguish any fires that occur? Maybe not always.
Mother Nature has long used fire as a tool in maintaining
forests. Fire clears overgrowth and opens the floor up to sunlight, fostering
Unfortunately, that threatens a growing a spreading human
population now living near large swaths of forested land. Lives and billions of
dollars in property in the path of a forest fire sometimes are at risk.
That’s the reality. And though professional foresters know
best how to manage such lands, the public often operates under the misconception
that a tree should not be destroyed as long as we can prevent it.
Just as is the case with modern agriculture, the average
American is far removed from the timber industry. We are inundated with stories
about the rape of natural lands, but receive little information about the proper
management of our lands.
A case in point is the common statement that if one creates
less paperwork, he will “save a tree.” As with livestock production, such a
sentiment ignores that fact that trees are planted for pulp, and if the paper
demand were not there, the tree would not be planted in the first place.
Old-growth forests, of course, are different, in that they
are natural, not planted for harvest. However, we need to let nature do her
work, by clearing dead trees and brush in some areas and clear-cutting in some
Many in the public don’t seem to understand that this is
necessary in order to maintain the fragile coexistence of man and nature.
Illinois and Indiana both have national forests, and while
this region isn’t nearly as prone to major forests fires as are areas of the
West, there still is the potential for damaging fires, especially during times
It behooves all of us to sit back and let the professional
foresters do their job. One way to help is to stop the spread of misinformation
about forests and forest fires.