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Environment

All Along the Watchtower

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Hurricane Irene may be front and center today, but wildfires commanded U.S. headlines earlier this summer. Via yesterday's Guardian, here's a spot-on observation from the lookout tower:

There is a saying among some of my colleagues in the wildfire community: that during the 20th century, despite our phenomenal success in suppressing fires on public land, we were not so much putting out fires as putting them off. Not any longer. Especially amid the effects of climate change, the days of putting off fires are over. But if I've learned anything in my decade of quiet mountain-watching, it is that fire is as much a creative as a destructive force, and from amid the blackened stumps the forest will renew itself once more. What kind of forest we will have is uncertain. Will we follow the prescription of the ranchers and loggers and their minions in Congress, and turn loose the cows and the chainsaws, repeating the mistakes that brought us here in the first place? Or will we learn some humility, recognise that we live in a fire-adapted ecosystem, and allow the land to follow its own, sometimes fiery course to recovery?

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