As of right now, over 7 million acres of wildlands are burning or have burned in the southwestern United States. Outside my living room window, I can see smoke from one that went from 7 acres to 3 thousand over night. Containment of this blaze just rose above zero but just barely, and it looks like the thing’s headed for the Pecos Wilderness, where there are no roads to bring in equipment and no lakes big enough to dip a helicopter bucket in. The fire crews, I imagine, are sparse, since most of the manpower is probably over in AZ dealing with the mother of all forest fires that so far has probably wiped out at least a couple drainages where endangered Apache Trout have been hanging on by their teeth.
You know the story, a moron flicks a butt or leaves a campfire smoldering without another thought, in spite of the fact that it’s so dry out here that you can fart and start a grass fire. This story is so old that I don’t care to hear it; you expect it in this age of No Fear window stickers and reality TV. There’s no escaping the fact these days that, if given enough of a chance, a huge segment of our population can build mountains out of stupidity.
And because it’s so old, what I want to hear instead is where we will go from here. The people I want to tell me are the greenest of the greens, the folks that in this world of over 7 billion souls, believe that leaving it all alone will take us somewhere good. Don’t get me wrong, I love and want lots of roadless and pristine (all relative of course; the American west has been mowed at least a couple times in the last couple centuries) wilderness areas to backpack in or just know about. It’s the country that people don’t backpack in that concerns me, the places where people can drive to and build rogue campsites, burn whole trees, and shoot off Roman Candles.
In my mind, there’s a silver lining to the fires if we choose to see it. As the kings of the hill, humans need to manage that hill. Forests need to be thinned, not only as a fire prevention measure, but to improve habitat for wildlife, which greater numbers of people can seek with cameras, rods, guns, or bows. Our connection to the land – too long in a state of atrophy – will gain strength that way. Hands covered with dirt and blood will build this connection, not hands that do not touch what is, by command of clear responsibility, theirs to touch.