"A land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the
land community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect
for his fellow members and also respect for the community as such."
Aldo Leopold- Sand County Almanac
A consortium of the U.S. Forest Service, an NAU forestry professor named
Wallace Covington, and others, are moving forward with their
multimillion-dollar "fireproofing" of 100,000 acres of a Flagstaff area
forest. They call it "pre-settlement restoration" or sometimes fire
prevention but it has already been used as old-growth logging disguised as
forest fireproofing. Proof of this is Covington's past pre-settlement
"thinning" restorations at Mount Trumbull. Photographed at that site
were 36-inch matriarchs being sold to logging companies, - supposedly to pay
for the cost of the restoration thinning. Sometimes enviros are able
to set a 16-inch cap on these "pre-settlement" logging schemes, sometimes
not. George Bush's new appointees will certainly oppose any logging
This pre-settlement scheme claims to protect homes from forest fire. In
reality, most of those millions of dollars will be wastefully spent in
forests more than the 0.5 miles from homes. Numerous studies have
shown that if you wish to protect homes and property you are wasting money
if you thin and manipulate the forest more than half mile from that
The "pre-settlement" approach embraces the Covington notion that by
thinning the forests we can return them to a benign "pre-settlement" forest
type characterized by slow, cool-burning forest fires which will hug the
ground and not reach the canopy. In reality, fire burned in Arizona
and throughout the West in every possible manner from hot to cool.
Since cattle are not permanently removed from our public forests
following this "restoration" thinning, the cycle of dense conifer thickets
and crown-fire laddering continues. Cattle, by removing grass, allow conifer
seedlings to germinate in excess.
If we were to have only Covington's cool fires here in the West, it would
be an ecological disaster. There are important ecological benefits from
having both hot and cool burning fires. Many birds and other wildlife are
dependent upon hot, stand-replacing fires, intermediate fires, and cool
fires. This mix of fire intensity types results in diverse tree
species and age classes, and many beneficial stages of forest succession
-essential to dynamic, productive forest ecosystems.
Smokey's fire suppression policy has impacted a host of fire-dependent
birds and wildlife. In Arizona these include Hermit Thrush, Hairy
woodpecker, and Olive-sided Flycatcher. That flycatcher needs severely
burned forests. Under fire suppression Arizona and the West have lost much
of its aspen. Aspen is valuable here for our Red-naped Sapsucker, Warbling
Vireo, and various woodpeckers and swallows.
Fire is indispensable for Arizona's Buff-breasted Flycatcher. That
species depends upon fire-induced clear areas in pine forests. Aerial photos
of most forest fires show a complex mosaic of heavily burned, partially
burned and unburned areas. These burned/unburned mosaic interfaces
with both living and standing dead trees become insect smorgasbords for
bluebirds, swallows, woodpeckers etc. They capitalize on the copious, varied
food supply of the burned and unburned habitats.
Fire is essential for the survival of various plant species, whether the
flames open sealed cones to release seeds, or clear the ground to create
conditions for germination. Harmful, exotic weeds brought in by the
livestock industry, are reduced in number by fire. Smokey has always told us
how inimical bark beetles, dwarf mistletoe, gypsy moths, porcupines and
to his tree farm mindset. These are, in reality, the beneficial
forces. Like fire, they open up overgrown post-mature forests for
wildlife and promote tree species succession. The latest issue of
Audubon Magazine pointed out that some insect species actively search out
fires, homing in on the chemical compounds in smoke. These fire-loving
insects include wasps, wood-boring beetles and robber flies. The black
Melanophila beetles congregate at fires, arriving in time to lay their eggs
in still-smoldering trees. These beetles apparently detect flames with
a pair of infrared sensors on their thorax.
Smoke may signal widely dispersed insects to gather, increasing their
chance of finding a mate. Burned trees also provide food for growing insect
youngsters as well as the birds that depend on these insects as prey items.
In one wasp species, the mother lays her eggs under scorched bark, along
with depositing a wood fiber-digesting fungus. Insectivorous birds thrive in
hot fire areas with standing burned trees.
Let's protect homes and property by only fireproofing the well studied,
officially accepted half-mile wildland-urban interface distance. And
let's not throw billions of tax dollars into the "pre-settlement" nonsense
even one inch outside the 0.5-mile wildland-urban interface.
The cool-burning "pre-settlement" forest type never even remotely
characterized the West. The Covington prescription is nothing more than the
foot in the door by a forestry professor to bring old-growth logging and
even-aged tree farms back to the West. If you have any doubts about this,
look how our pro-logging western senators are clamoring for this
Buff-breasted Flycatcher: This bird is dependent upon forest fires
which create mosaics of meadows full of insects, surrounded by unburned
standing trees for nesting.Jim Burns photo