FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Forest Service’s Big Burn

by Jeffrey St. Clair And Alexander Cockburn

If you believe what the Forest Service interrogators say, Terry Lynn Barton started the big fire in Colorado’s Pike National Forest by burning a letter from her estranged husband. Maybe so, and possibly the jury will be forgiving when they hear more details of Ms Barton’s married life. But a jury might well be equally forgiving if it turns out Terry Lynn started the fire by setting fire to her pay stub.

After 18 years of dedicated service Terry Lynn Barton’s monthly pay was $1,485, which tots up to $17,820 a year. Try raising two kids on that in the greater metropolitan area of Denver. She’s being described in the press as “a Forest Service technician” which is FS-speak for all-purpose manual laborers cleaning up campgrounds, trail maintenance and kindred grunt work.

Forget the Edward Abbeys, Jack Kerouacs and Gary Snyders of the forest fire watchtowers, turning out literature while communing with nature and scanning the ridge lines for tell-tale plumes. The Forest Service, part of the USDA, has long been notorious for exploiting its bottom-rung workers more than any other agency. The laborers are often forced to live in squalid housing under fairly harsh conditions with scant benefits.

These grunts are the ones who have to deal with visitors angered at having to pay as much as $40 in annual passes for visits to forests in a particular area. Having ponied up the money these visitors often find nature’s temple criss-crossed with logging roads, scarred by clear cuts or the new, RV friendly rec sites blessed by recent administrations.

From the anguish and outrage of Barton’s superiors you’d think that you’d think that that the Forest Service has always regarded fire as the devil’s work.

A little perspective: this particular Colorado fire has so far burned through something over 100,000 acres. The implication is that all these acres are blackened zones of ash and carbonized stumps. Not so. Many of those acres will have suffered minor scorching. And of course healthy forests need fires as a natural and frequent catalyst to regeneration, particularly in the conifer forests in Colorado.

But the Forest Service’s policy has been to suppress fires. In the middle and long term this policy leads to huge fuel loads which, when the inevitable conflagration does come, then burst out into the kinds of large scale burns that we are now seeing across the West.

Responsibility for fires stretches far higher up the bureaucratic chain than poor Ms Barton. Since the days of Gifford Pinchot the Forest Service has seen fire-suppression as a sure way to get a blank check from Congress. Fire-suppression gets the Service the big ticket items, planes, helicopters and so forth. Fire suppression is used to justify the Service’s road building budget and even logging programs.

The Forest Service says all fires are bad and need to be suppressed with the help of huge disbursements from Congress plus public vigilance. All children have the ursine, self-righteous smirk of Smokey the Bear dinned into their psyches, said bear being conjured into icon status 60 years ago after the incredible popularity of that noted fire-fugitive, Bambi.

So the Forest Service needs fires, and diligently sets them each year, under the rubric, Controlled Burn, or Prescribed Fire. These regularly surge out of control, as in the Los Alamos forests a couple of years ago, started by the Park Service in Bandolier National Monument. The Forest Service bigwigs okay fires and then summon ill-paid fighters to do the dangerous work. Far more prudent would be to let the fires run, but that of course would leave idle all the costly fire-fighting machinery and expose the Forest Service to the wrath of the real estate industry, which has raised million dollar homes in areas certain to see a blaze some day.

Terry Lynn Barton faces twenty years in prison while the timber industry licks its lips at the prospect of “salvage logging” the Colorado forests. “Light it and log it,” as the old phrase goes. Once a forest burns, existing restrictions go out the window, the Forest Service offers up 100,000 acres for salvaging, and in go the timber companies, hauling out the timber, immune to environmental restrictions. You don’t think timber companies have setting fires for years, often with Forest Service complicity?

We sure hope Terry Lynn Barton gets a good lawyer. He might start by asking a few pointed questions about her treatment. Is the Forest Service trying to paint as the John Walker Lindh of Colorado?

 

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

April 27, 2017
Darlene Dubuisson – Mark Schuller
“You Live Under Fear”: 50,000 Haitian People at Risk of Deportation
Karl Grossman
The Crash of Cassini and the Nuclearization of Space
Robert Hunziker
Venezuela Ablaze
John W. Whitehead
Trump’s America is a Constitution-Free Zone
Ron Jacobs
One Hundred Years That Shook the World
Judith Deutsch
Convenient Untruths About “Human Nature:” Can People Deal with Climate Change and Nuclear Weapons?
Don Fitz
Is Pope Francis the World’s Most Powerful Advocate for Climate Stability?
Thomas Mountain
Africa’s War Lord Queen: The Bloodstained Career of Liberia’s Eleanor Sirleaf Johnson
Binoy Kampmark
Short Choices: the French Presidential Elections
Paul C. Bermanzohn
Monetizing My Mouth
Michael Barker
Of Union Dreams and Nightmares: Cesar Chavez and Why Funding Matters
Elier Ramirez Cañedo
“Let Venezuela give me a way of serving her, she has in me a son.”
Paul Mobbs
Cellphones, WIFI and Cancer: Will Trump’s Budget Cuts Kill ‘Electrosmog’ Research?
Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee
The Closing of Rikers: a Survival Strategy of the Carceral State
April 26, 2017
Richard Moser
Empire Abroad, Empire At Home
Stan Cox
For Climate Justice, It’s the 33 Percent Who’ll Have to Pick Up the Tab
Paul Craig Roberts
The Looting Machine Called Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
The Dilemma for Intelligence Agencies
Christy Rodgers
Remaining Animal
Joseph Natoli
Facts, Opinions, Tweets, Words
Mel Gurtov
No Exit? The NY Times and North Korea
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Women on the Move: Can Three Women and a Truck Quell the Tide of Sexual Violence and Domestic Abuse?
Michael J. Sainato
Trump’s Wikileaks Flip-Flop
Manuel E. Yepe
North Korea’s Antidote to the US
Kim C. Domenico
‘Courting Failure:’ the Key to Resistance is Ending Animacide
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Legacy of Lynne Stewart, the People’s Lawyer
Andrew Stewart
The People vs. Bernie Sanders
Daniel Warner
“Vive La France, Vive La République” vs. “God Bless America”
April 25, 2017
Russell Mokhiber
It’s Impossible to Support Single-Payer and Defend Obamacare
Nozomi Hayase
Prosecution of Assange is Persecution of Free Speech
Robert Fisk
The Madder Trump Gets, the More Seriously the World Takes Him
Giles Longley-Cook
Trump the Gardener
Bill Quigley
Major Challenges of New Orleans Charter Schools Exposed at NAACP Hearing
Jack Random
Little Fingers and Big Egos
Stanley L. Cohen
Dissent on the Lower East Side: the Post-Political Condition
Stephen Cooper
Conscientious Justice-Loving Alabamians, Speak Up!
Michael J. Sainato
Did the NRA Play a Role in the Forcing the Resignation of Surgeon General?
David Swanson
The F-35 and the Incinerating Ski Slope
Binoy Kampmark
Mike Pence in Oz
Peter Paul Catterall
Green Nationalism? How the Far Right Could Learn to Love the Environment
George Wuerthner
Range Riders: Making Tom Sawyer Proud
Clancy Sigal
It’s the Pits: the Miner’s Blues
Robert K. Tan
Abe is Taking Japan Back to the Bad Old Fascism
April 24, 2017
Mike Whitney
Is Mad Dog Planning to Invade East Syria?    
John Steppling
Puritan Jackals
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail