From Townhall Magazine's September feature, "Fanning the Flames," by Katie Pavlich:
Since 1947, Americans have been told by Smokey the Bear that they are the only ones who can prevent forest fires. While this famous campaign is splashed all over television screens every summer just before fire season, the federal government actually doesn’t allow the prevention of forest fires, either from the population or through its government agencies.
The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has a motto of “caring for the Land and serving people,” but it turns out neither is happening. Between government bureaucracy or the grip the green movement has on the way the USFS operates by keeping ranchers out and preventing multiple use, such as grazing or logging on federal land, massive forest fires ravage the American West every year.
“You know, when I was a kid, it used to be the big deal to go to the mountains,” Terrell Shelly, a longtime New Mexico rancher and outfitter, tells Townhall. “My folks worked cattle in the mountains and hunted and fished, and we grew up there. It was a great big deal as kids to get up there and do those kinds of things. I raised my kids to do the same thing, and my grandkids are now just getting old enough to go, and there’s nothing left to take them for anymore—it’s all burned up. You don’t want to take them up there and show them what’s left.”
Shelly’s family has been ranching and running cattle since 1844, before the USFS was founded. He bought the ranch from his parents in 1972 and added an outfitting business, although he had already been an outfitter and hunting guide since high school, when he would take paying customers on guided hunts before licenses to do so were required.
However, a combination of regulations and burned habitat in the past 10 years has brought business to a near standstill. The Wallow Fire of 2011, which burned 840 square miles of land in the Southwest, was devastating to his business.
“It’s made it where it isn’t worth your while. Everything I do is packed in on mules. There are no roads, so it makes it where it’s just not feasible to take everything in there just to set up one hunt. We used to set up and take five or six in a row,” Shelly says. “It got to where you couldn’t make a living.”
Shelly’s story is just one of many. Local economies have been destroyed by catastrophic wildfires all over the West, and there is little chance they’ll be coming back.
“The types of people I brought in, I brought in baseball players, NASCAR drivers, some of the big names. Dale Earnhardt hunted with us for 11 years and guys like that,” Shelly says. “They brought a lot of money in here when they came and the USFS doesn’t seem to care if we exist or not.”
Overgrown and Out of Control
It is evident the original intent of the USFS has been diverted significantly. There is an overemphasis on protecting certain types of wildlife, particularly the spotted owl. The Endangered Species Act has given the green environmental movement a stranglehold on USFS decisions, and the Wilderness Protection Act of 1964 makes it impossible for the USFS or private industry to clear dead trees and brush—which fuel fires—an efficient way to prevent forest fires.
The Wilderness Act of 1964 was passed “to establish a National Wilderness Preservation System for the permanent good of the whole people, and for other purposes.” According to the language of the legislation, the stated goal of the act was to ensure wilderness would be available and “administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use as wilderness.”
Since the passing of the WPA, the federal government has continued to block off more and more sections of land and has engaged in the promotion of obscene regulations to meet its definition of pristine and natural area. It’s even gone so far as to suggest a requirement for horses to wear diapers so they wouldn’t spread seeds or other plants into wilderness areas. And the use of mechanical equipment? Forget about it.
“They’ve ‘protected’ this forest and kept anybody from doing anything because of the Wilderness Act, and they don’t allow any motorized equipment of anything like that,” Shelly says. “We can’t even use a chainsaw to go clear a trail or anything. You have to do it with an ax, which is stupid. We spent 200 years getting mechanized so we can do things faster.”
Want more? Order the August issue of Townhall Magazine to get the full story by Katie Pavlich.