Tapestry Institute

Burning Through the Roots, Part 11

The local ranchers believed what the salvage loggers told them: that the forest cannot recover on its own but needs to have the dead trees removed and new trees planted for there to ever be forest again, and that a standing burned forest is a serious wildfire hazard. A lot of people believe both things (Footnotes 14, 15). On Pine Ridge, we saw people cry when they were told the trees would never grow back. Some signed a salvage logging contract because they didn't want to face the risk of another and even worse fire in the acres of dead trees. Some gloated over the money they would make. Others simply accepted the growing community sentiment that the standing black tree skeletons were an ugly blight.

Overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that salvage logging kills trees that survive a wildfire, destroys fragile burned soils, buries sprouting seedlings, reduces regeneration, increases erosion, damages creeks and rivers, compacts the soil so that new plants can't grow, introduces or spreads invasive species, increases the prevalence of destructive insect pests, and actually increases future fire risk by piling combustible materials at ground level. The negative impact can last for centuries (Footnotes 13, 14, 15, 16, 17).

The soil on the steep slopes of Pine Ridge was slippery with ash, wet from early autumn rains. The salvage loggers put chains on the metal treads of their equipment. They skidded sideways across soil we wouldn't have stepped on, over roots we'd not have walked over. They began their harvest.

The political and personal infighting that went on when the salvage loggers arrived is beyond my power to describe to you in this venue. But I can show you what they did for the sake of money, that they said was to help the land heal (Figures 37-45). We took photographs of places that were in the process of healing until the loggers came, and then photographs of what the same places looked like later on. See for yourself. Salvage logging is not about healing. It is an atrocity. In the very midst of rebirth, on the threshold of restored health to a whole ecosystem, these human beings turned what should have been the victory of new life into the sad and final whimper of a truly dying land. It was a loss as tragic as it was meaningless.

I spent much of my childhood here, in the Valley of the Sun. The name of this place -- Phoenix -- reflects the fact that the city's founders knew they were building a new city upon the ruins of an ancient one. A people called the Hohokam left behind a network of canals here that the early white settlers cleaned out and put to use in their own agricultural fields. I am sure you know the story of the Phoenix, also called the Firebird, that those city founders had in mind. It is a mythic being that died in flames in order to give new life to the young Phoenix that rose from the ashes of its consumed parent (Figure 46).

Americans have been preventing wildfires in forests for the better part of sixty-five years. That's equivalent to bustling about the Firebird's nest with water hoses and extinguishers, dousing any sparks or hints of flame, deciding on our own that the Firebird's nest really shouldn't be permitted to burn. Fire is dangerous, after all, and it kills the Firebird! But the forests have finally managed to start burning anyway these last few years, and they're not likely to stop any time soon. So now when the nest is burned to ashes and the Firebird with it, we let salvage loggers and tidiers and planters and terracers come in and sweep up the mess because it's so unsightly -- but can be sold, not incidentally, for a last profit. In the process, we lose any chance we ever had to have a Firebird -- or a forest -- ever grow there again.

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