Incinerating the American West

(‘76 Contributor) As I write these lines, vast wildfires are sweeping through my home state of Colorado and other areas of the American west. Last week, two of my employees had to leave work early to rush home to evacuate their families from imminent danger. Hundreds of houses have already been destroyed, and thousands of acres of trees incinerated, and unknown myriads of wild animals burned alive.

This disaster was predictable, and promises to get worse. Over the past decade, from British Columbia to New Mexico, the world’s most rapid deforestation has been underway in the North American west, with an average of nearly six million acres of forest lost per year — roughly double the three million acres per year rate in Brazil. The culprits here, however, have not been humans, but Western Pine Beetles, whose epidemic spread has turned over 60 million acres of formerly evergreen pine forests into dead red tinder, dry ammunition awaiting any spark to flare into catastrophe.

Yet while the global green movement has made a cause célèbre of the Amazon rain forest, they have done nothing to oppose those destroying our woods. Quite the contrary, they have been doing everything in their power to assist the wreckers. Indeed, over the past decade they have launched over a thousand lawsuits to block every attempt by the National Forest Service or others to take necessary counter measures.

These facts are well-known, and in many places there are those who would be delighted to do the logging (not everywhere, unfortunately, as the shutting down of 90% of the American timber industry by the environmentalists over the past two decades has forced many local sawmills to shut down) because pine beetle kill wood is fine timber. Indeed, its striking blue stain endows it with beauty prized by many carpenters for ornamental purposes. Yet time and again, plans to allow controlled preemptive logging to proceed have been blocked by spurious lawsuits from a multitude of self-described environmentalist groups, who additionally have used these suits to bilk the taxpayers of billions of dollars.

There is one word that sums up the required course of action: logging. The beetles have been spreading uncontrollably because continuously connected and extremely thick forests densely populated with mature trees provide the ideal environment for their proliferation. Logging to thin the forests of mature trees that afford the beetles their favorite homes would slow their growth considerably. Logging out tree-free gaps between sections of forests would impose quarantine limits on the epidemic. Logging out trees that have already been killed would remove fuel for the otherwise inevitable conflagration.

The arguments that the putative environmentalists have used to justify their campaign have been risible. For example, in a legal brief filed August 29, 2011, on behalf of itself and several other groups, the South Dakota-based Friends of the Norbeck said:

Yes, bark beetles are killing many trees, but that won’t necessarily lead to large fires. Even if it did, there’s not much humans can do directly to forests to influence fire risk, except to begin reducing human causes of climatic change. Logging the forest will not significantly influence fire spread, and removal of dead trees has many negative impacts on forest ecosystems.

While as recently as this May, the allied “Native Forest Council” issued a statement saying,

Insects, fire and disease are part of nature. They keep our Commonwealth of forests healthy and alive. They did so until the white man came and began liquidating them, using them up because they were there. Nature’s insect, fire and disease don’t destroy forests. Man, chainsaws and greed destroy forests. Man, scientists, even foresters have never grown a forest, let alone a “like kind or better” forest. They don’t know how. They never have and they never will.

The illogic of the antihuman sentiments behind these, and endless numbers of similar statements put forth by the beetle’s Green apologists over the past decade, is incredible. Limited harvesting that would save the forest (and incidentally reduce damage to forests elsewhere, such as the Amazon, by driving down the global price of wood) is to be shunned — precisely because it would create jobs, useful products, and commerce. At the same time, vast depredations that destroy tens of millions of acres of wild habitat, kill countless numbers of terrified animals in the most horrible way, and throw millions of tons of smoke, pine-tar gas, and other pollutants into the atmosphere are discounted as irrelevant and unimportant by those who claim to care so deeply for nature and all its creatures.

Of course, there is another tactic that could be used to save the forests, and that would be to use pesticides. For example, as long ago as the 1940s, it was shown that DDT is extremely effective in countering the Western Pine Beetle. Thus on pages 287-288 of Biology and Control of the Western Pine Beetle, US Department of Agriculture Forest Service Miscellaneous Publication 800, 1960, authors J.M. Miller and F.P. Kern report on numerous studies done in the period from 1944 through 1951 that showed 90 to 96% mortality within hours among pine beetles that came into momentary contact with trees that had been sprayed with 5% dilute DDT solutions.

However, the same environmental groups that have halted western logging regard the idea of using DDT to stop the pine beetle with near hysteria. Rachel Carson’s 1962 tome Silent Spring (which falsely argued that the vital pesticide DDT should be banned because it was killing the birds, when actually it was protecting them — and us — from insect-borne diseases) is virtually sacred scripture to the greens, and the successful campaign to ban DDT that followed from its promotion serves as the core of their proudest creation myth. In enshrining this myth, the anti-technology cult has chosen to heartlessly turn its head away from the massive amount of human misery it has caused through its narcissistic sacrifice of millions of African children to malaria. It must perforce regard the very idea that its object of hatred might be used to save our forests and their wildlife from incineration as nothing short of outright heresy.

From DDT, to nuclear power, to fossil-fuel development, to genetically improved crops, the green movement has used the pretext of nonexistent or grossly exaggerated environmental hazards to block enterprises that would be of enormous benefit to people. However, when faced with a real and catastrophic threat to the wild they have taken the other side — precisely because allowing the necessary protective measures would not constrain human liberty, but expand it, in however limited a way, and this would undermine the central purpose of the “environmentalist” exercise.

To those seeking environmental pretexts for enhanced control over society, all changes to nature effected by humans, no matter how beneficial, must be portrayed as criminal. Thus global warming and carbon dioxide emissions are denounced, despite the fact that they lengthen the growing season, increase rainfall, and accelerate plant growth. Thus no actions may be taken to save the forests.

By the light of a burning wildness the truth may be perceived. The purpose of the green prosecution is not to protect nature, but to put shackles on humankind.


Dr. Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Astronautics, a Senior Fellow with the Center for Security Policy, and the author of “Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terror by Breaking Free of Oil”. His newest book, “Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism” has just been published by Encounter Books.

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