The NIFC site is loaded with valuable information for homeowners in the wildland/urban interface and other interested parties, including news, statistics, links, multi-media programs for schools, a photo gallery, and more. Every year many families unnecessarily lose their homes and possessions to wildland fire. These losses can be minimized if homeowners take the time to become aware of safety measures to help protect their homes and complete some effective actions.

Visit the NIFC's Prevention and Education page.

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Eco-Publishing: Indie Presses Saving the Planet, One Book at a Time

Forest Fires: Out of Control or Natural Balance? Island Press and Univ. of Arizona Press books help sort it out.
"More than 2.5 million acres of U.S. wildlands have been destroyed by fire so far this year. At almost 50% more damage than this time last year, 2002 is on course to surpass 2000 as the worst year ever for wildland fires." This according to Eco-Compass: The Internet Guide to Environmental Information, the online newsletter published by Island Press as part of their goal to communicate ideas essential to solving local and global environmental problems. The Washington, D.C. based independent publisher is dedicated to "protect biological diversity and ecosystems services, encourage sustainability of the natural resource base, and promote and protect human health and the quality of life."

Island has great interest in the U.S. forestry system, as shown by recent and upcoming books and the newsletter. These are valuable resources in helping to educate the public on the issues, and are especially pertinent in bad wildfire years such as this one. As in previous years, all sides involved in the debate over the appropriate use of our wildlands have attempted to ascribe responsibility for the devastation on practices they oppose. Loggers argue that more logging would reduce the amount of fuel available, the Bush administration has blamed the efforts of environmental groups to reduce logging as a major factor in the increased number of fires, and conservationists contend that the fires would not be problematic if development were kept farther removed from wildlands.

In the book, Flames in Our Forest: Disaster or Renewal? (2002) Stephen Arno and Steven Allison-Bunnell maintain that, "Ecological science makes it clear that fire is just as integral to the life of western forests as wind, rain, and sunshine."

Apparently the USDA Forest service agrees. Since the late 1960's, it has supported allowing natural fires, i.e., fires caused by lightening, to run their course. The theory behind this practice holds that if forests are allowed to burn according to their natural cycles, there will be relatively frequent underbrush fires but few catastrophic fires. Such use of controlled burning also regenerates plant growth and clears an area of persistent insects and can be traced back to the practices of the earliest Native Americans.

In Wildfire: A Reader (2001), Alianor True, a veteran firefighter at only 27 years old, has compiled and edited some of the finest stories and essays ever written about wildfire in America. From Mark Twain to Norman Maclean to Edward Abbey, the writers featured in this volume depict and record wildfires with remarkable depth and clarity. The ecological perspective is well represented through the works of John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and John McPhee. Ed Engle, Louise Wagenknecht, and Gretchen Yost, firefighters from the front lines, give exciting first-person perspectives, reliving their on-the-ground encounters with forest fires.

For nearly two centuries, the creation myth for the United States imagined European settlers arriving on the shores of a vast, uncharted wilderness. Over the last two decades, however, a contrary vision has emerged, one which sees the country's roots not in a state of "pristine" nature but rather in a "human-modified landscape" over which native peoples exerted vast control. The Island Press book, Fire, Native Peoples, and the Natural Landscape seeks a middle ground between those conflicting paradigms, offering a critical, research-based assessment of the role of Native Americans in modifying the landscapes of pre-European America. Contributors focus on the western United States and look at the question of fire regimes, the single human impact which could have altered the environment at a broad, landscape scale, and which could have been important in almost any part of the West. Out in the West, another independent press is doing their part to enlighten the public about environmental issues, with many new and upcoming titles relevant to the forest fire dilemma. The University of Arizona Press, founded in 1959 as a department of the University of Arizona, is a nonprofit publisher of scholarly and regional books. As a delegate of the University of Arizona to the larger world, the Press publishes the work of scholars wherever they may be, including titles in American Indian studies, anthropology, archaeology, environmental studies, geography, Chicano studies, history, Latin American studies, and the space sciences.

Especially with this summer's headline-making forest fires, UAP books on the ecology of the Southwest are of special interest, and one can find a formidable library of works that help explain the environmental and social factors involved. Forests Under Fire: A Century of Ecosystem Mismanagement (2001) in the Southwest contains essays that discuss how forest management has evolved to emphasize biocentrism, in which forests are seen as dynamic ecosystems. Despite this progressive shift, the book warns that the assault on our forests continues through overgrazing of rangelands, lumbering, eroding mountainsides, and fire suppression.

In the introduction, collection co-editor Christopher J. Huggard writes: "Ecosystem management offers an alternative solution to more than a century of gross mistreatment of the national forests. Rather than managing the national forests in the twenty-first century principally to extract their main components, forest managers will be working to nurture the biotic components to foster biodiversity and species interdependence. For this holistic management strategy to succeed, the Forest Service will have to continue to engage in forest-management partnerships, scientific inquiry, and skillful diplomacy. Our national forest heritage is at stake, and it's time we realized it."

AUP's backlist is full of titles dealing with the environmental issues from various points of view. In The Abstract Wild (1996), author Jack Turner argues that what little wildness we have left is fast being destroyed by the very systems designed to preserve it, calling for a new conservation ethic that focuses less on preserving things and more on preserving process and "leaving things be." He writes: "The problem is this: it is not clear to any of us, I think, how the wildest acts of nature-earthquakes, wildfires, the plagues, people being killed by and eaten by mountain lions and grizzly bears, our lust, the open sea in a storm-preserve a harmonious cosmic order."

In Reopening the American West (1998), essayist Stephen J. Pyne describes the natural cycle of desert thunderstorms: "The greater cause, however, is climatic: the summer monsoon. Surges of moisture from the south strike mesa and mountain, and thunderstorms tower like spumes from surf on a reef. Rain descends in veils, drying while yet in the air. Lightning kindles fires that flash from the peaks like beacons." Pyne also explains how controlled forest burning was in practice by native tribes when the first European settlers arrived in the Southwest, and how that all changed when farming of crops and livestock replaced the hunting/gathering lifestyle. "The issue is how to relate to fire-how to keep it from destroying people and how to prevent people from transforming flame into a destroyer," he warns. "Otherwise the border between the human and the natural will grind with greater and greater force, and out of that friction will come fire that no one wants and no one can control." UAP will publish a new book by Pyne in 2003, entitled Smokechasing.

A new book for Fall 2002, Floods, Droughts, and Climate Change Michael Collier and Robert H. Webb, explains how floods and droughts relate to climate variability over years and decades, and points out the human side of some of the most destructive weather disasters in history.

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The outlook for the future is somewhat daunting, and it appears that the severe wildfires that burned millions of acres in recent years are a harbinger of wildfires in our future. But, considerable scientific knowledge and technology are available to guide reduction of fuels and restoration of more fire-resistant forests, and books published by Island and UAP contribute greatly to our awareness and wisdom.


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