If lightning strikes in the New Mexico wilderness and starts a fire, the blaze would normally be little more than a blip on the radar of land managers who have earned a reputation for letting flames burn to keep forested lands from growing into a tangled mess.
This season is different. Now firefighters are trekking deep into the Gila National Forest with trains of equipment-carrying horses and one overriding goal: snuffing out all fires, no matter how small or remote.
The U.S. Forest Service’s decision is temporary. But after years of upholding fire’s natural ability to clean up the landscape, the agency’s about-face has drawn criticism from watchdog groups, some scientists and others who fear the agency might be setting the stage for an even more destructive season next year.
“At a time of both drought in the interior West and overall increases in average global temperatures, we will be seeing more fire on the landscape and not less. Yet this policy attempts to put our hands over our eyes and deny that reality,” said Andy Stahl, executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics.
Actually we don’t have a rational reason to expect temperatures to keep rising.