Our forests are too overgrown to fail

An economic analogy.

We have been preventing and fighting forest fires for a couple of hundred years believing it was the best way to preserve our forests and our way of life. We were wrong.

Left to themselves, naturally occurring forest fires were frequent, slow moving and limited. These fires cleared the weak, dead or dying trees. These fires burned the brush and vegetation from the forest floor, which supports destructive insects and has become the fuel of the major fires we know today. These fires diversified the environment, made the soil richer and forced the trees to develop thicker bark, which protected them from the heat. Many types of trees require the heat from these fires to release their seeds. New growth occurs most often within a couple of weeks as the vegetation thrives in the nutrient rich and uncompressed ash left from the fires and the lack of competition for sunlight.

Since we have protected our national forests, fires are less frequent. They are also much hotter – often consuming the old growth trees and moving too fast for the forest animals to escape. With enough firefighters and money, we can protect some special sections of the forest, but the moonscape left everywhere else takes much longer to grow back.

Mother nature, nor mother economy, will not be denied. No matter how many trees you plant, or how much stimulus fertilizer you provide, it is just going to take a while – that is, unless, there’s another fire.


Postscript: I was torn as to whether I should share this as it may have seemed that I was both uncharacteristically hopeful and suggest that I am anti-regulation or anti-stimulus. I am not. BTW, if there is another fire, it’s best to run like hell or jump in a lake with the other animals and the snakes.

5 thoughts on “Our forests are too overgrown to fail

  1. Monica Smith

    It takes a lot of work to manage a garden. Perhaps the biggest myth about the Garden of Eden was that man’s expulsion was the beginning of the need to labor. A garden needs to be tended. If man is going to supplant the natural tenders like the deer and the other browsers, then he’s got to do the clipping, make the paths to water and see that the streams run clear.
    Once man has meddled and inserted himself into the natural environment, he’s got an obligation to do his part. Conservatives and environmentalists share the false opinion that the environment will just take care of itself and provide all the bounty man requires without any labor input from him. When humans were few in number, it was possible for them to just move on and leave their messes behind. Now we’ve run out of pristine places and the despoliation exceeds our ability to cope.
    It’s not enough to just say ‘no.’

  2. Jonny Hibbert

    It was about 17 years ago that I was camping up in the Cohutta “Wilderness”. I was struck by the number of huge trees all over the forest that lay criss crossed as dead-falls throughout the forest floor. I asked a ranger in a green pickup truck about this, commenting that it “looks like God’s tinderbox”. She said that the “wilderness” status meant that the local folks that had hauled shortwood (the little trucks with the cable hoist on the back, remember them?) were prohibited from taking from any forest designated “wilderness”.

    For eons the human inhabitants of the forests have gathered the deadfalls for their fuel and many other uses. What a foolish plan, to take this gathering element out of the “natural” scheme of healthy forest growth.

    Before the ranger drove off, she said that it was like a big tinderbox and that one day soon, a fireball was gonna roll right on down into Ellijay, so hot that it burns good black humus soil right down to the underlying rock or mineral soil. There are balds up in NC where a very hot natural fires have occurred at high elevations. They are still bald, after centuries.

    Nature, we love her to death, don’t we?
    Jonny Hibbert

  3. Lee Leslie Post author

    Jonny -- thank you for your comment, but I believe I owe you an apology for doing such a lousy job of writing this story. While you are right about everything in your comment, what I was attempting to do was analogize forest fires with our economy. I was suggesting that our continued intervention in the markets, government guarantees and special breaks to large businesses meant to prevent economic problems (forest fires) has actually made our economic problems worse and that they will take longer to recover. I was suggesting that, like the forest, without some periodic burns (market changes, failed businesses, etc.) to get rid of the dead wood and weak growth, new growth won’t naturally occur, be as diverse or be able to compete for sunlight. I was attempting to suggest that periodic adjustments in the market, existing businesses won’t be as strong. Sorry.

    1. Monica Smith

      Well, the economy is an entirely man-made artifact, although the principle of “give and take” is a natural phenomenon. Bees do it. Birds do it. They just don’t think about what they give (pollination) for what they take (the ingredients of honey). Humans don’t often think of give and take either. Perhaps that’s why they think that they can take, ad infinitum, without giving anything back, sort of like the predatory beasts, whose existence is predictably brutish and short. If we don’t give back, if we just exploit, then we deplete our resources and, since moving on is no longer a real option, we contribute to our own destruction.
      The notion that public corporations are fundamentally different from private corporations is wrong, unless we let private corporations get away with being irresponsible. In that case, we’re just encouraging predation under cover of law. There is a fundamental difference between predation and give and take. Social organisms characteristically employ the latter.

  4. Meg Gerrish

    A perfect analogy to the economy and I appreciate the posting, Lee. Hard to say more in a bouncing car, but you’ve presented a great argument that … everything WILL be fine.


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