I can't remember if this was in the original book or just the original BBC radio play script, but towards the end of "The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy" there is a scene where the population of the 'B' Ark -- a population of dullards and nitwits ditched by their own civilization -- end up stranded on prehistoric Earth.
They are having a conversation about fiscal policy, to wit: Once they decided to use leaves as negotiable currency, they all became immensely rich, but with the rather large supply of leaves on hand, they had run into something of an inflation problem. At that point, they decided to embark on a fiscal tightening policy to effectively re-value the leaf... by burning down all the forests...
It was this scene playing again and again in my mind when I read that Congressional Republicans have decided that for the safety of wildland firefighters in Arizona, the most expidient and clearly the best alternative is to ... wait for it ... cut down all the trees.
This is from an LA Times editorial appearing this morning:
Within days of the devastating news that all but one member of an elite firefighting team had perished, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation arranged an oversight hearing on the topic for Thursday. Its conclusion, though, seems to have been reached in advance. "Unnatural, excessive growth and unhealthy forests increase the risk of wildfire," last week's announcement said. "Active management helps protect and restore forests while also helping local economies and creating jobs."
So let me get this straight... 19 firefighters perish fighting a wildfire and the immediate GOP response is to level the forests. "Forest Thinning" and "Active Management" are the quaint bits of political legerdemain they have come up with for renewed push to clear cut the land of anything larger than a blade of grass.
And make no mistake, clear cutting is what we're talking about here. There are western logging interests that have wanted to plow through the national forests for decades and they will use any excuse to forward that policy.
There are sensible forest management and risk abatement policies that could -- and probably should -- be put in place. Defensible space around forests, enforcing more stringent fire safety codes for residential areas adjacent to wildlands, a policy of "let it burn" given that fire ecology is a critical part of the life cycle of a forest.
One reason fires like Yarnell get so out of hand is that for the better part of a century, the organizing principal of the Forest Service, and most other like agencies, has been to put out fires, which they have learned to do very well. The problem is that areas that don't regularly burn get overgrown and then when they do ignite it is with the fury of decades of unspent fuel.
The problem is not that we're lax in our deforestation duties, it's that a policy of natural fire ecology in our wildlands has always had fierce political opposition from a wide variety of interests: loggers, mining, agriculture, home builders, etc...
I just wish that for once -- for once! -- those interests would come correct and talk about what they really want, and it's not firefighter safety and it's not responsible range management, it's tapping a resource for all it's worth like a plague of drunken locusts, stripping the land and moving on to the next patch... and their enablers in Congress are making it all that much easier now.
Well, I guess you get what you pay for...