First of all, forget all that romantic mythology about those noble inhabitants of North America that greeted the Europeans. The natives engaged in both intermittent and long warfare. Therefore they moved and were even massacred with some frequency. Ergo (therefore for you that didn’t take Latin) the idea that somehow the woodlands, grasslands and other habitats of that undeveloped wilderness (the correct two words) were “burned” regularly, or that the harvest or “take” of fish and wildlife was somehow “in tune” with other than opportunity and the effort required, or that trees were cut or grass grazed in tune with some sort of system or understanding is a “Myth, a Myth!” (Miss Piggy enters stage right at this point saying “Yeth, Yeth?”)
Set aside, if you will, the fact that some few tribes in a minority of time were able to find some rare stability, inhabit an area for a period of peace and develop primitive land and animal use schemes that did provide these people with some measure of use that hopefully kept their surroundings productive of their needs. Never the less, lightning fires ignited grasslands and mature woodlands, fires ignited by natives often got away with wind shifts and surprise fuel ignitions that burned longer than imagined. Life was tough for these tough people. Between warlike neighbors, marauders, weather, disease, food scarcities and weapon advancements (just like Europe longbows replaced crossbows; bow and arrow material changes, arrow/spear point material, chipping techniques, use of horses, and battle/sneak attack procedures made early North American life too often “nasty, brutish and short.”
Bottom line there ARE NO “NATIVE ECOSYSTEM” MANAGEMEMNT TECHNIQUES OR PROCESSES, NOR IS THERE SOME SORT OF ”NATIVE ECOSYSTEM” NIRVANA DICTATED BY MOTHER EARTH TO BE EMULATED.”
That said, Europeans moved westward cutting timber, making farms and towns etc. etc. Buffalo were whittled down (how else to grow crops and graze livestock?) Fertile farm land was homesteaded and the better grazing lands were similarly claimed and “developed”. The marginal places were cut for timber and grazed by rovers. This was done hard because they were not the property of those cutting and grazing them: therefore fires like the Hinckley (MN) Fire were not uncommon in the late 19th century in all the slash (deadwood not used) lying about. Also, Americans were beginning to realize that it was not good to just cut everything and graze it so hard so unowned lands wound up under a new system wherein the federal government would own and manage it for all – the loggers, the ranchers, the hunters, the fishermen, the camper, the local communities, the hikers, the Scout Troops, the elderly, the schools, the local government, the animals, the trees, the children the puppies, the scientists… – ( I apologize here, I always get carried away at this point like some federal political staffer or bureaucrat writing a new law for my boss to get votes out of.)
In the first two thirds of the 20th century this worked reasonably well. Gifford Pinchot, Aldo Leopold, Teddy Roosevelt et al saw their names etched in books, and on all manner of federal landholdings. While the National Park Service always kept their original mandate for the Washington Gods to forever oppose tree-cutting and hunting; the US Forest Service managed their vast woodlands well as did the Bureau of Land Management manage their vast grasslands for one and all. Cattle grazed year after year, trees were cut in rotations and access roads were numerous and frequent making timber hauling AND Fire Fighting possible. Elk and Deer harvests plus fishing managed streams filled state conservation coffers, local businesses thrived, and local government revenues were stable and important. Also, predators like wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, and cougars were either exterminated or kept at tolerable (to those living with them) levels to sustain the ranches, timber industry, and livestock. Forest (or Grass) Fires were infrequent because fire fuel was managed along with timber cutting for rotating habitats, desired wild animals and local community need and desires. When fires did occur, fighting them was possible and the nearby persons, towns and private property were in nowhere near the danger they are today in the frequent, massive, “catastrophic” fires that fill our newspapers and Congressional Requests for more and more Billions of dollars and even appeals to far away countries like New Zealand to send us men to fight these seemingly impervious to everything but bombers with red chemicals fires.
What happened? The 1960’s happened. Free love (i.e. sex), drugs, anti-war, animal rights, and extreme environmentalism happened.
So the US Fish and Wildlife Service showed the way with new laws, especially the Endangered Species Act that the federal bureaucrats owned everything and could do what they want with impunity. Spotted owls killed the logging industry in SW Oregon. The snail darter almost stopped a needed dam. Wolves were released, protected and spread like, well, wildfire. Grizzly bears were protected everywhere under pain of being “Gulagged” and your family deported. Everywhere animals were suddenly “endangered” or “threatened”. Suddenly, trees shouldn’t be cut but loved and “saved.” Likewise grass became some sort of Monet-like subject of only beauty and to use it was verboten. Add in that the Universities saw what was happening and ground out government-paid-for “science foe every cockamamie claim being made by the 1960’s-leftover radical organizations like Defenders of Wildlife, NRDC, CBD, “Friends” of this and that”, and all the ill-educated urban worthies that sent their lunch money to these outfits to influence the bureaucrats and fund and promise votes to the devolving politicians that were once game fish-like and were rapidly becoming bottom feeders like some 20# Asian carp in the Illinois River.
Rising out of this effluvium were all the “New Age” foresters, biologists, and associated experts replacing the old white guys. The new goals were all credited to “shareholders”. “input”, “science” and “coordination”. The USFWS continues to declare and prohibit tree cutting over growing areas. The USFS Forests close roads, eliminate logging, prohibit even timber cleanup after disease outbreaks or storms and generally do all they can to grow fire fuel in unmanaged woodlands. USFS and BLM close every grazing allotment they can. All three (USFS, BLM, USFWS) work with the radical 1960’s leftover organizations like nurses working with doctors, not to save lives but to destroy rural America. What they can’t do the pandering political slogs in both parties declare “Wilderness” and “Sanctuary” lands where no one goes legally and the unmanaged and unused RENEWABLE NATURAL RESOURCES simply create fire fuel and the catastrophic fires we blame on global warming (like the moose disappearance to wolves in Minnesota) and “European lifestyles” and “too many people” that have destroyed that pristine and idyllic world that formerly occupied the United States.
It’s not global warming; it’s not even the fire fuel: the fires are caused by a faulty political philosophy fueled by radical groups buying politicians and ignorant bureaucrats posing as natural resource “experts” that are no more than Charlie Mc Carthies for whoever is in charge. Blame them and the next time you, hear, “Did you see where President named a new “Wilderness” and a new “Marine Sanctuary”? Oh, I don’t care about that Iran nuclear deal or the National Debt; I’m going to vote for whoever makes more Wildernesses and send some money to the Sierra Club too.” Blame yourself for not changing what has been going on now for 50 years.
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Jim Beers is a retired US Fish & Wildlife Service Wildlife Biologist, Special Agent, Refuge Manager, Wetlands Biologist, and Congressional Fellow. He was stationed in North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York City, and Washington DC. He also served as a US Navy Line Officer in the western Pacific and on Adak, Alaska in the Aleutian Islands. He has worked for the Utah Fish & Game, Minneapolis Police Department, and as a Security Supervisor in Washington, DC. He testified three times before Congress; twice regarding the theft by the US Fish & Wildlife Service of $45 to 60 Million from State fish and wildlife funds and once in opposition to expanding Federal Invasive Species authority. He resides in Eagan, Minnesota with his wife of many decades.
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