Treehuggers International

Blaming Wildfires On Environmentalists

July 17th, 2011

Aggravated by drought, the legacy of timber-driven forest policies continues to affect the west.

A special guest column from Treehuggers International friend and fellow conservation colleague Rick Halsey, the director of the California Chaparral Institute and a member of the San Diego Regional Fire Safety Forum.

Rick is currently putting together a talk for the International Mediterranean Ecosystems (MEDECOS) conference in Los Angeles in September, and shares a response he wrote to Mike Rogers, a retired Forest Service supervisor, in response to an e-mail Mr. Rogers sent to Jack Cohen, at the Fire Sciences Laboratory in the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station.

Rick was last on Treehuggers International during the midst of the Station Fire on September 27, 2009. An archived edition of this show is available above. Click HERE to see the page for this show.

Angry Man Blames Environmentalists for Wildfires (again)

By Rick Halsey

Another chapter in the endless parade of fire propaganda. In relation to the common extremist rant blaming wildfires on those who care about the environment, below is a note I wrote in response to a former Cleveland and Angeles National Forest Supervisor’s rage against environmentalists (along with immigrants, drug runners, and President Obama). In the past, Mike Rogers has also included what he considers to be liberal judges, the “Greenies,” and the so-called “Berkeley crowd” in his sights.

From: Mike Rogers
Sent: Sun, July 17, 2011 12:34:28 AM

Dear Jack,

I am absolutely disheartened when I see articles put out by Audubon quoting you and Jerry Williams, both of you whom I have the up most respect for writing about the Mega Fires like the recent Wallow Fire, that never acknowledge that we have had management of our national resources severely constrained by so called “environmentalists” over the last 40 years. This is never mentioned. There is a very distinct reason that these wildfires are now unmanageable and unconquerable and it is not all about climate change or fire suppression policies of the last 100 years. We are reaping the tragic results of 40 years of extreme bankrupt environmental policies that restrict management of any kind in favor of letting mother nature manage our National Forest resources. I have been monitoring the environmental rhetoric following on the heels of many well written and referenced articles that have come out after the Arizona and New Mexico wildfires that point to the increasing stand densities and fuel build ups due to the lack of any management and the total insanity of the current situation on the National Forests in the west. They, the environmentalists, continue to blast management of any kind and defend their “Hands Off Policies”, even though the the endangered species and their habitats they were adamant about saving have been completely destroyed by these recent stand replacement wildfires. The restrictions on Forest Management are bad enough, but what galls me even more is the FACT that many of these wildfires were started by illegal immigrants and drug runners diverting Federal Authorities by starting fires in one location so they could cross in another. This issue has been totally suppressed by the current Obama administration that is bent on pushing through an amnesty bill and does not want any bad publicity getting out to the nations voters. This is indeed a very sad state of affairs.

Unfortunately the mention of your and Jerry Williams names give these articles credibility that is totally misplaced.

Mike Rogers
Wildfire Protection Planner

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I am not sure why you have descended into hyperbole and divisive rhetoric. Creating straw dogs to promote your view of the world and impugning the reputation of outstanding fire scientists like Jack Cohen are not rational choices.

As so many of us have pointed out to you before, there is no scientific evidence to support your claim that “environmentalists” are responsible for what you call “unmanageable and unconquerable” wildfires. Nor is there any scientific evidence to support your claim that endangered species have been “completely destroyed” by stand replacement fires.

The politics of hate and fear of the type you are unfortunately exhibiting in your e-mail only lead to divisiveness and alienation, not solutions. Please reconsider your approach.

Rick Halsey
California Chaparral Institute

– – – – – – – – – – – –

From: Mike Rogers
Sent: Sunday, July 17, 2011 9:49 PM

Hi Rick,

Thank you for your response. However, you have totally misunderstood my e-mail message to Jack Cohen and Jerry Williams. I wanted them to know how their excellent work is being mis used to expresses a view that neither one of them agrees with or supports. I did not know if they had seen it. I too have been misquoted or have had statements used that were and are totally taken out of context and have appreciated others that have seen this and have taken the time to give me a heads up. I was in no way demeaning the fine reputation of Jack, a personal friend, whom I have worked with since 1977.

There are a number of us monitoring the aftermath of the wildfires in the southwest. Efforts are already underway to block any and all efforts to salvage any of the fire killed timber and create much needed jobs. These individuals and groups are the same ones that have blocked all forms of management that have led to stand densification and unacceptable fuel build ups, resulting in the current situation in the southwest. Those that preceded us handed us a well cared for natural renewable resource to pass on to the next generations, however, what we have been witnessing since the mid 1960’s and 70’s is the locking up of these resources in the name of preservation only to see them decimated since the mid 1990’s by destructive stand replacement wildfires that take the affected ecosystem back to zero and in the process destroy local economies and livelihoods. This has been going on for far too long and it is time to right the ship. If you disagree so be it.


– – – – – – – – – – – –


Besides your choice of language, my disagreement over your perspective is focused on how you characterize the entire fire situation. From the e-mail you originally sent, you made no attempt to quantify what you were talking about. You have taken studies which have dealt specifically with the dry ponderosa pine forests of Arizona and New Mexico (which you didn’t explain), and incorrectly applied them across all the National Forests in the west.

Clearly you know lodgepole pine forests of the type in Yellowstone (and many other areas) have natural fire return intervals of upwards to 300 years and stand-replacing fires are the norm. There is no evidence fire suppression, environmentalists, or President Obama have had any impact on fuel build up in those ecosystems. Clearly you know the Fir-spruce forests in the Rocky Mountains also have fire return intervals of 300 years plus. Many of the Piñon-Juniper woodlands have fire return intervals in excess of 400 years. Then we have the wet Pacific Northwest; I’d be glad to provide the references for these numbers if you wish.

I know you adhere to the Baja California hypothesis to claim there is an unnatural fuel build up in California chaparral ecosystems. However, you should know by now the hypothesis has been rejected by the majority of fire scientists. Here is a review of the literature and an objective summary of the points leading to the rejection.

I cannot comment on your characterization of “locking up” resources other than to say that viewing forests from a forester, timber exploitation perspective is not necessarily applicable in the broad-based manner you are using. This is the same perspective that the USFS has used to justify:

– The wholesale spread of herbicides and animal poisons to “restore” burned forests in Northern California.

– The logging of the huge “wall of wood” which once existed within the Olympic National Forest. In fact, up until a few years ago the joint USFS/NPS visitor center informed visitors: “A mature stand of timber is largely stagnant. Some liken it to a desert. Decay and death of individual trees diminish what’s there. Nothing much happens until management begins.”

– Dragging huge chains between tractors to uproot old-growth junipers in the southwest to “improve” rangeland.

We obviously need lumber and there are definitely some forests which have unnatural fuel loads, but nowhere near what you are suggesting.

I’m not an economist, but if your intent is to create jobs, which you seem to continually champion, perhaps a better approach would be to encourage outdoor enjoyment industries. I suspect those would provide longer lasting and more satisfying careers than those based on uncertain government dollars which fund huge vegetation management projects and the firms which conduct them.



West of the Wallow Fire near Greer, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

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A firefighting helicopter battling the Wallow Fire, near Alpine, Arizona.


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