Friday, October 3, 2014
Fire Good? Fire Bad? and, Whatever Happened to Pyrodiversity
I recently bought a book called California Indians and Their Environment. California Indians unlike most of the other Indians in what is now the US had never developed any agricultural technologies. Instead, California Indians made their living exclusively off plants growing wild in their environment. However, Indians managed their environment by burning practices that encouraged their food and medicinal plants to thrive.
Enter the Europeans.
Fire, an environmental management tool for the Indians was a threat to property for the Europeans. The use of fires intentionally set by the Indians, what are now called prescribed fires was outlawed by the Europeans. I imagine that the dwellings of Indians were subject to fire damage just like the dwellings of the Europeans but given that the Indians set fires to manage the vegetation in their territory did not build dwellings where they would get burned down. In addition, Indian dwelling may have been more temporary or movable and therefore more disposable or more easily relocated if a prescribed burn was called for.
The National Park people on the other hand don't sell any lumber and so they can afford to let forest fires burn. No revenues are lost as a consequence. Perhaps park attendance goes down during a forest fire but quickly picks up again afterward. National parks even do prescribed burns since some trees like the giant Sequoias don't reproduce unless the ground is burned over.
But back to the Department of Agriculture anti fire campaign. While the motivation to prevent forest fires was primarily financial, the advertising campaign instead focused on the fact that forest fires could potentially kill cute baby deer and bears, and so Smokey the Bear was created.