• Dillon Currie

Fire, Fear, & Freedom: Lands of Inaction

The same process of thought that would support blanket “gun control” also supports blanket “public land” closures. It is the absurdity of irrational fear and the complete lack of trust and decency given to others. The public is punished as a direct result of the ineptitude of the administrative and enforcement agencies failing to perform their duties.

In the case of gun control, enforcement of current regulations are utterly lax. Failure to keep and update a comprehensive background check system, in order to identify prohibited possessors, renders the entire concept ineffective. Proactive laws are rendered useless and the burden passed onto reactionary enforcement, where law abiding citizens are castigated for the actions of criminals.

In the case of public land management, basic failure to exercise landscape level preventative and restorative measures, along with dismal enforcement of fire restrictions are the norm. Reactionary firefighting efforts are the inevitable end result and public land owners pay the price. Land managers have chosen to lock out the public and deny responsibility for their duties. They have passed off the problem to emergency response teams to clean up their mess and pointed blame towards everyone else.

In the name of “public safety” things must be prohibited for the greater good. In reality, they must be done because our government doesn’t trust its citizens. Yet, some in the public still support broad irrational restrictions: from gun control, to mask wearing, to public land lockouts; A shocking irony, considering the entirety of human history where governments have proven incompetent, irresponsible, illogical, and horrifically detached from “doing the right thing.”

Limited closures, warnings, or evacuations in the face of credible, tangible, imminent dangers, such as those in the direct and probable path of a fire or extreme weather event are reasonable. These should always be bounded to the smallest and most precise area possible and only be applied in acute, precise, and succinct manners.

Blanket forest-wide closures created with abstract, broadly defined, indefinite, and theoretically improbable threats are examples of paranoia, ineptitude, overreach, and misappropriation of emergency powers.

Our most recent modern methodology is to fear your neighbor, fear the stranger, and obey your master without question. Blanket closures demonize and exaggerate broadly the behaviors of average forest users. Most forest users don’t violate fire restriction rules and do not cause harm. Most forest users utilize basic human reasoning and don’t engage in risky activity. Recreational activity rarely creates forest fires and does not put anyone at probable risk.

The penalties for violating fire restrictions are inconsequentially low. We have grown complacent to the utter deficits in law enforcement. These bloated multi-billion dollar agencies don’t employ enough manpower to patrol the land they manage on a good day, let alone in an emergency. They waste time and taxpayer money disregarding their primary functions left and right. As a result, the taxpayer and public land owner pays the price for their dysfunction.

Our timberlands are overgrown after years of litigation and failure to remove fuels adequately. Invasive species dominate an unrestored and neglected landscape. Poor ecological conditions of our forests, deserts, and grasslands are the results of decades of mismanagement, misuse, and deferred or delayed restoration efforts. The public land owner pays the price for the errors of the past, inaction of the present, and paranoia of the future. We are decades into restoring environments, if only in tiny increments. We are moving in the right direction, but we are also decades from sorting out a mess that took centuries to create.

Many fires begin along city, county, or state, maintained roadsides due to vehicle accidents or negligence. The 2020 Bush Fire (193,455 acres) that engulfed the southern Mazatzal Mountains began after a vehicle fire along the ADOT maintained Bush and Beeline Highways. Roadsides constitute a significant portion of all human caused fires. There are zero acceptable excuses for the poor management and complete neglect in improving the defensible spaces around our road and highway systems. You as a public land owner are punished for the government’s inability to prepare.

A portion of fires are started intentionally due to arson or negligence, as was the case with each half of the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski fire (468,638 acres). This is hard to prevent because some people are simply dumb, ill, desperate, evil, or malicious. Good guys carrying guns protect against bad guys with guns. Good guys fight fires to protect against bad guys creating them. With blanket closures, you as the public land owner get lumped into the deplorable category of those few who commit such idiotic or insane actions.

Lightning is an uncontrollable and erratic source of wildfire ignition. Extreme heat and dry air precede the annual monsoon season. This makes ground conditions extremely conducive for ignition. As the seasonal winds shift, waves of moisture are brought up into the southwest sporadically. In the early stages, these storms often lack the necessary moisture to recharge the landscape enough to inhibit rapid large fire growth. In particular, landscapes with excessive unnatural fuel burdens become increasingly at risk to fire starts. Our current active fires Backbone and Rafael began as a result of lightning, as did the 2005 Cave Creek Complex fire (243,950 acres). Blanket wide closures don’t stop lightning caused fires. Lightning doesn’t care what notices people hastily laminate and adhere with packing tape to barricades along public land entrances. Lightning will still haphazardly start fires of its own volition. As a public land owner you get collectively banned and prohibited from using your American birthright, because the managing agencies fear random acts of God.

Blanket closing of the forests doesn’t solve the underlying problem that decades upon decades of misuse and mismanagement have caused. Our wild land firefighters and other emergency response people do the unthinkable as a reactionary force; They tame the primordial element of fire to save lives acting in impressive public service. This is not a rebuke of true and appropriate emergency action.

Stop blaming Climate Change, it's a cop-out. The climate is in a perpetual state of change and has been changing on its own accord for the entirety of modern time. Climate is not static. There is no precedent for this notion. It has been hot and dry in the southwest for thousands of years. A uniquely stable environment, not glaciated in the last ice-age. However, this stable region just like the rest of the planet has had many ebbs and flows in temperature and precipitation throughout its existence. We’re in a dry era which exacerbates fire conditions, but Climate Change isn’t causal to the overall deteriorated health of the landscape.

Public lands require proactive solutions to large fires, and landscapes with absurdly high fuel burdens, to correct a century and a half of mismanagement. Land managers need to proactively cut fire breaks into the landscape in anticipation of when, not if, a fire will start. Forest roads used as fire fighting access points need to be improved or expanded. Plant-free buffer zones around all state maintained roads and highways need to be enhanced. Rapid reduction of fuel burdens, by use of extensive controlled burning, firewood cutting, logging, and grazing has to occur. Commercial utilization of potential fuel sources should be drastically increased. Restoration efforts are mandatory landscape wide. Enforcement capabilities of management agencies must be proportionately expanded to account for increased population growth and recreational use.

Federally owned and managed Public Lands have always been use-at-your-own-risk environments. True imminent threats may justify temporary limited closures, as limited as possible, to ensure the immediate safety of public land users and the surrounding land owners. Forest-wide closures are lazy executions of management authority, manifestations of short-term fear, distrust of the citizenry, and long-term deferment of responsibility, accountability, and action. It’s time to change this now common cycle of locking out the public from their lands under the outright lie of public safety; Cut the red-tape and act to prevent landscape-scale destructive fires, not strictly react.