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We asked Andy Mason of the National Capital chapter of the Society of American Foresters to share with us what he recently learned about a family with deep forestry roots.

Shirley Ann Mattoon was there on September 24, 1963, joining the large crowd that welcomed President John F. Kennedy to Milford, Pennsylvania, and Grey Towers for the dedication of the Pinchot Institute for Conservation. On this day, Gifford Pinchot’s ancestral home, was given by the Pinchot family to the American people and is now managed as a national historic site by the U.S. Forest Service. Known to her friends as “Sam,” now 88 years old, Shirley was a celebrity at the 50th anniversary of the 1963 dedication. She had many other stories to tell us about that day and her family of foresters with connections to Pinchot as we sat and enjoyed appetizers and sipped wine on a beautiful moonlit fall evening on the lawn in front of the Grey Towers mansion.

Sam Mattoon

Sam Mattoon identifying herself in this 1963 photo of President John F. Kennedy at Grey Towers. President Kennedy is to the right of the man with the camera.

Sam’s husband, John A. Mattoon, a second-generation forester and U.S. Forest Service employee, was also there in 1963 with just a few things on his mind. John worked for the national “I&E” office (Information and Education office, known today as the Office of Communication and Conservation Education), and with the chief of I&E (his boss) on assignment in Europe, John had a major role in coordinating the president’s visit and the event.

Sam Mattoon (right) with Margie Mattoon Cox (John A. Mattoon’s sister) at the 1963 dedication.

Sam Mattoon (right) with Margie Mattoon Cox (John A. Mattoon’s sister) at the 1963 dedication.

When he retired in 1983, John A. Mattoon had more than 40 years of federal service that began in World War II, when he served as a naval aviator flying a Curtiss Helldiver bomber with the 88th squadron on the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown. For several heroic actions in the Pacific, he earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses and two Air Medals. He graduated from Penn State before the war and received a master’s degree from the Yale School of Forestry in 1950.

Early in his distinguished natural resources career, in the 1950s, John A. Mattoon was district ranger on national forests in Colorado, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. He transferred to the Washington Office, where he worked closely with Forest Service artist Rudy Wendelin and others to help promote Smokey Bear into the icon it remains today. While in Washington, Mattoon and Wendelin also worked together to design the agency’s shoulder patch that was used beginning in 1963 until the early 1970s.

John A. Mattoon (center) with fellow employees showing off their new Forest Service shoulder emblems at the Pisgah Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest, 1963

John A. Mattoon (center) with fellow employees showing off their new Forest Service shoulder emblems at the Pisgah Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest, 1963

After 24 years with the U.S. Forest Service, Mattoon transferred to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and continued his work to promote conservation and educate the public about it. He had a major role in developing the advertising campaign for Johnny Horizon, BLM’s very successful symbol of the late 1960s and early 1970s that encouraged litter cleanup and brought attention to air and water pollution and other issues. He also worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and ended his federal career in the Department of the Interior working on the Alaska pipeline and the Endangered Species Act, among other issues. When he retired in 1983, his colleagues presented him with a framed simulated press release that described how he was widely admired throughout his long career by coworkers, the conservation community, and the news media for his “outstanding personal and professional integrity, unswerving loyalty, and dedication to open communication.”

Singer Burl Ives, broadcaster Arthur Godfrey, and Secretary of the Interior Wally Hickel follow John A. Mattoon (far right) at a Johnny Horizon publicity event on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1970 (Photo by Jack Rottier, National Park Service)

Singer Burl Ives, broadcaster Arthur Godfrey, and Secretary of the Interior Wally Hickel follow John A. Mattoon (far right) at a Johnny Horizon publicity event on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1970 (Photo by Jack Rottier, National Park Service)

The forestry roots of the Mattoon family go deep. John A. Mattoon’s father, Merwin “Chic” Mattoon, was also a Yale Forestry School graduate (class of 1914) and the second forest supervisor of the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. The Pisgah was the first national forest established under the Weeks Act of 1911 and included a portion of the Biltmore Estate, where Gifford Pinchot first put scientific forestry to work in America. The first school of forestry in the United States—the Biltmore Forest School—was also there, now preserved as the Cradle of Forestry in America National Historic Site.

John and Margie Mattoon on a U.S. Forest Service parade float, Asheville, North Carolina, circa 1930

John and and his sister Margie Mattoon on a U.S. Forest Service parade float, Asheville, North Carolina, circa 1930

“Party on Big Levels Federal Refuge—May 1939” is written on the back of this photo, along with the following identifications: “Standing (Left to Right): T. E. Clarke, Leo Couch, E. Addy, Dr. Jackson, C. O. Handley, Carl Nolting, M. A. Mattoon (tall man wearing a vest), R. M. Evans, D. J. Wooley, and H. S. Mosby. Bottom Row (Left to Right): B. C. Park, G. L. Varney, A. L. Nelson, S. P. Goodloe, Dr. H. L. Shantz, and Mr. Thornton.”

“Party on Big Levels Federal Refuge—May 1939” is written on the back of this photo, along with the following identifications: “Standing (Left to Right): T. E. Clarke, Leo Couch, E. Addy, Dr. Jackson, C. O. Handley, Carl Nolting, M. A. Mattoon (tall man wearing a vest), R. M. Evans, D. J. Wooley, and H. S. Mosby. Bottom Row (Left to Right): B. C. Park, G. L. Varney, A. L. Nelson, S. P. Goodloe, Dr. H. L. Shantz, and Mr. Thornton.”

And the family roots go even deeper. Merwin Mattoon married Marguerite McLean of Simsbury, Connecticut, Gifford Pinchot’s birthplace and early childhood home. Pinchot was close friends with another McLean family member, George P. McLean. Gifford and George were said to be “soulmates” and loved the Simsbury woods. George would gain fame as governor of Connecticut and a three-term U.S. senator. Gifford also knew George’s brother, John B. McLean; the two reportedly met in 1895 to help establish the Connecticut Forestry Association. Merwin was also personal friends with Gifford Pinchot and would fish with him as well as with L. L. Bean. Both Merwin and Marguerite Mattoon are buried in the Hop Meadow cemetery at Simsbury. William “Bill” Cox, grandson of Merwin, great-grandson of John B. McLean, and nephew of John and Sam Mattoon, lives in Simsbury.

The Mattoon family tree includes yet one more forester: Wilbur Reed Mattoon, Yale Class of 1904. Known as W. R. or “Matty,” he was one of the first extension foresters who worked throughout the South to promote farm forestry and the possibilities of growing timber in that region. He is recognized for his many publications and speeches and as one of the best writers in the Forest Service on forestry matters (from 1959 oral interview with Elwood L. Demmon, Asheville, by Elwood R. Maunder, Forest History Foundation, Inc.). One example of his work is “Forestry Lessons on Home Woodlands” (USDA Department Bulletin No. 863), issued in 1920.

Through their associations with Gifford Pinchot, the U.S. Forest Service, other conservation agencies and organizations, the Yale School of Forestry, and a love of the woods, the Mattoons and McLeans certainly had a role in shaping early forestry and conservation in the United States. Thanks to Sam Mattoon and her family, we have now quilted these two families into that rich history. Do you have a story to tell about another “first family of forestry”? Please contact Jamie Lewis, Forest History Society historian.

Andy Mason is the chairperson of the National Capital Society of American Foresters. This article was prepared with the aid of Shirley Ann “Sam” Mattoon, Bill Cox, and Margie Mattoon Cox. Tom Thompson and Karl Brauneis (both foresters and U.S. Forest Service retirees) also made important contributions to this story.

A significant amount of Michigan’s public forests today owe their existence to the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s. Known as “Roosevelt’s Tree Army,” CCC enrollees played a crucial role in reforestation efforts throughout the country during the Great Depression, and nowhere was the impact of their work more significant than in Michigan. Between 1933 and 1942, CCC workers in Michigan planted 485 million trees, more than were planted in any other state.

These plantings by the CCC took place on both state and federal land, but much of it occurred on the five national forests that existed in Michigan by the late 1930s: the Ottawa, Hiawatha and Marquette forests in the Upper Peninsula, and the Manistee and Huron forests to the south (the Marquette was later consolidated with the Hiawatha in 1962, and the two forests in the Lower Peninsula were combined administratively in 1955 to form the Huron-Manistee).

1941 Map of Michigan's National Forests

Michigan’s National Forests in 1941.

Michigan’s massive reforestation effort during the 1930s would not have been possible without the work of tree nurseries administered by the Forest Service. Most of the state’s planting stock was provided by four USFS nursery operations: the Beal Nursery in East Tawas, the Wyman Nursery in Manistique, the Chittenden Nursery in Wellston, and the Toumey Nursery in Watersmeet. By 1941 these nurseries were providing an average of 97 million seedlings each year for Michigan’s national forests.

The visual history of these nurseries is documented in four new image galleries recently added to the FHS website. With more than 150 historic photos, the galleries showcase the important work behind the reforestation efforts which transformed Michigan’s landscape. Continue below to view the photos in each gallery and to learn more about the history of each nursery.

Joseph Sparks, official artist for Huron National Forest, sketching CCC boys at Beal Nursery

Joseph Sparks, official artist for Huron National Forest, sketching CCC boys at Beal Nursery, 1934.

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As faithful readers know, we love movies here at Peeling Back the Bark HQ. And there are numerous forest history-related horror films worth checking out for Halloween. We love the B-movies from yesteryear the best. So without further ado, here are our favorites.

Texas Crosscut Saw Massacre

When A Stranger Calls

Texas 2-man Chainsaw Massacre

Frankenpine movie

Raphael Zon of the Dead

Pines movie poster.

Timberland Terror movie poster

Be sure to check out these flicks where a Forest Service chief is the hero.
Or is he? MWAHAHAHAHAHA!

Ferdinand Silcox Vampire Hunter

Henry S. Graves Yard movie poster

By Dan Dwyer, Port Jervis Union-Gazette¹

MILFORD, Penn., Sept. 24—

The helicopter landed exactly on time. It was 1 p.m.

The door opened and became a ramp and this man came out.

It was the start of a hectic 70-minute visit by Pres. John F. Kennedy to Grey Towers in Milford yesterday afternoon.

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President Kennedy is greeted by Forest Service Chief Edward P. Cliff.

Mr. Kennedy, dressed in a neat blue suit with a faint pin stripe, white shirt and matching tie, moved towards a waiting convertible with the inevitable secret service men providing a way through the press of the crowd. The familiar shock of brown hair looked lighter than it does in most pictures and the white teeth shone in a constant smile. He is deeply tanned.

President John F. Kennedy

The president entered the third car in the six car entourage that moved slowly through a field to the road leading to Grey Towers. The road was lined with state police, foresters and Milford fire police. The landing field was some 200 yards from the amphitheater where a crowd estimated at over 12,000 waited. Some had been there since early morning, coming to get a good place to stand in front of the 20-foot stage where the ceremonies were scheduled to be held….

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But as the hour neared 1 p.m., the expectation grew and then the great mass of people suddenly knew the president had arrived for the audible noise of the copter blades sounded across the valley even though the Delaware Valley high school band was providing musical entertainment. There was a tingle of anticipation that rolled through the sea of humanity even though it would be another 15 minutes before the president would be seen by most of them.

It was a perfect day. Pennsylvania’s Gov. Scranton said later in his speech that it was typical weather for the state and who could dispute it. It was warm. A heavy frost had covered the area in the morning but the sun warmed the earth and by noon it was anything but cool. There was not a cloud in the blueness of the sky….

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The president stopped off at Grey Towers and for some ten minutes was greeted by area officials and conservation men from all over the country. He met with them on the terrace and the crowd was enlarged by the stream of reporters and camera men who surged in for information and the hundreds and hundreds of photos that were being taken along almost every stop of the way.

The president went up onto the platform and the band began to play the traditional “Hail To The Chief.” There was a feeling that swept across the great masses. I could sense it sitting near the front. It was a feeling of proudness and a feeling of drama and a feeling that this was a great moment in many lives … lives that could go through an entire lifetime and never again be in the presence of a president of the United States.

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The president gets a warm reception from the crowd and from those on the stage with him: (l to r) Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman, Chief Cliff, President Kennedy, Samuel H. Ordway, and Penn. Governor William Scranton.

It was 70 minutes that would be hard to account for if you had to list every minute but it was, for most of the people, a highlight in their lives that grandchildren not yet born are destined to hear about.

That’s how it was.

###

This breathless article was written by a newspaper columnist from the town located across the river from Milford, PA. It was one of many that appeared in the Port Jervis Union-Gazette the day after President Kennedy paid a brief visit to Grey Towers to dedicate Gifford Pinchot’s home and the establishment of the Pinchot Institute for Conservation Studies on September 24, 1963. This issue, as well as a special commemorative souvenir edition of the Union-Gazette published the day before Kennedy’s visit, can be found in the U.S. Forest Service History Collection here at FHS.

The trip to Grey Towers was the start of a grueling 4-day, 11-state tour for the president that the New York Times said was “dedicated to conservation but tinged with politics.” But on that cloudless day in Milford, the last thing on the minds of the overflow crowd was politics. They were there to see the president dedicate the estate of Gifford Pinchot, the hometown hero, to the cause of conservation. On September 21, 2013, another crowd will watch as dignitaries gather to commemorate that great event and rededicate the home and the institute that bears Pinchot’s name.

###

In addition to Dwyer’s article excerpted above (“The Day JFK Was Here“), the September 25th Union-Gazette also included an account by Norman Lehde, “JFK’s Visit Thrills Thousands,” and a look at the special preparations made for the president’s visit to Milford (3 miles of telephone cable!) in “Behind the Scenes for the JFK Visit.”

The collection also contains the original event program from the day, which lists the speakers and guests of honor, along with the transcripts of the remarks given by President Kennedy, Secretary of Agriculture Orville L. Freeman, and Samuel H. Ordway, president of the Conservation Foundation.

View more photos from the September 24, 1963, dedication event at Grey Towers in the Pinchot Institute Dedication photo gallery.

1. Dan Dwyer was a longtime columnist with the Port Jervis (NY) Union-Gazette and a Pulitzer Prize nominee. He interviewed Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson, each time nabbing the interview simply by writing them a letter and asking for an interview. His interview with LBJ took place in the Oval Office and lasted 40 minutes.

Over 300 historic U.S. Forest Service photographs from California were recently added to our image database, thanks to a collaboration with USFS Region 5 (Pacific Southwest). Matthew Stever, a Region 5 Heritage Photo Project intern, organized and scanned a large number of previously uncataloged photographs from the region, and digital copies were added to the FHS online image database. The photos come mostly from the San Bernardino National Forest, range in date from the 1910s to the 1960s, and cover a broad array of topics including forest rangers at work, fire prevention, fire suppression, recreational activities, and the Civilian Conservation Corps. The collection also highlights some lesser-known pieces of California history, such as the story of Camp Cajon.

Camp Cajon stone signAt a time when long-distance auto travel was still relatively new, Camp Cajon became a nationally known rest stop along an important route into southern California. For travelers during the 1920s and 1930s — long before the era of interstates, rest areas, and ubiquitous hotel chains and fast food restaurants — Camp Cajon provided a roadside stopping place, complete with facilities for eating, camping, and much more.

The camp was the brainchild of citrus grower William M. Bristol, who had a moment of inspiration while attending the dedication ceremony of the Pioneers Monument in December 1917. This monument to early settlers was erected along the National Old Trails Highway in Cajon Pass, at the junction of the Salt Lake and Santa Fe Trails (north of San Bernardino, along present-day Interstate 15). While at the dedication, Bristol came up with the idea of building a welcome station and rest area in Cajon Pass as a “gateway to southern California.”

Bristol returned to the area following World War I, pitching a tent in Cajon Pass during May of 1919 and intending just to stay a few months. Instead of building a few picnic tables and heading back to his orchards as originally planned, Bristol soon found himself immersed in a large-scale project which would continue on for years.

On land donated in part by the Santa Fe Railroad, Bristol began his work by building picnic tables. A master craftsman, Bristol designed and built a unique series of large round concrete tables, which would come to define the site even as it expanded.

The round concrete Camp Cajon picnic tables (0512_233).

The iconic round concrete Camp Cajon picnic tables (0512_233).

The initial dedication ceremony for Camp Cajon was held on July 4, 1919. A poem written especially for the event by Jennie Cook Davis was read, a quotation from which was set on a tablet in a stone sign marking the camp’s entrance:

“We have builded a shrine to friendship, good-fellowship and cheer,
That all who cross our threshold may find refreshment here.”

The camp quickly grew as sponsors provided funds for more picnic tables, large stone cooking stoves, massive barbeque pits, bath facilities, and more. The Elks Club built a stone lodge building, and a store and post office even sprung up. These facilities provided a place of much-needed comfort for motorists just emerging from miles of desert. The rest stop, picnic area, and free campground became well known nationwide as a can’t-miss stopping point along the route into southern California. A headline from a 1921 Los Angeles Times article summed this up: “Camp Cajon Takes Cake for Comfort, Gives Motor Travelers Great Welcome as They Come in from Desert.”

Camp Cajon travelers

Travelers making a stop at Camp Cajon (0512_118).

The legend only grew in 1926 when the National Old Trails Highway became part of Route 66, and the country’s iconic east-west highway ran right through Camp Cajon.

Unfortunately, Camp Cajon’s time was ultimately short-lived. Devastating floods during March of 1938 completely destroyed the camp, burying the facilities under piles of rocks and sand. Less than 20 years after Bristol began construction of the first picnic table, the camp was left in total ruin.

Three years later the Camp’s founder would end his own life. Bristol, a vocal proponent of euthanasia, took his life rather than continue suffering due to a debilitating illness. Ever a craftsman to the end, Bristol built his own wooden coffin by hand, got inside and shot himself.

No trace of Bristol’s once famous camp is left in the original Cajon Pass location today. The Camp Cajon site sits near a McDonalds on the edge of Interstate 15 just south of its intersection with Highway 138. While the camp was buried and built over, pieces of Bristol’s work still live on elsewhere. Several of the original concrete picnic tables from Camp Cajon were salvaged, and can be found in Lytle Creek and Perris Hill Parks in the city of San Bernardino.

Continue below to view Camp Cajon photos from the collection. To browse additional Region 5 photos, search all fields for: “0512_*” (which is the ID# prefix for the images added as part of this project).

Present day site of Camp Cajon

Present-day site of Camp Cajon, just off Interstate 15.

Camp Cajon

Stove and picnic tables at Camp Cajon (0512_235).

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A short time ago, my co-blogger Eben received a query from someone asking for “GP’s 10 commandments.” He had not heard of this and passed the query along to me. “GP” is Gifford Pinchot, and as you probably know, he was the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service and helped develop many of the agency’s policies that still shape the agency today. As the founder of the Society of American Foresters, he also laid the foundation for the profession of forestry.

At first, “GP’s 10 commandments” didn’t ring a bell. Because this is fire season, I thought maybe the person had conflated Pinchot and firefighting and was confusing the commandments with the Ten Standard Fire Orders. After reviewing the note, we decided it wasn’t that. But given Pinchot’s strong religious convictions, his missionary zeal in leading the conservation crusade, and his willingness to martyr himself for the cause during the Ballinger controversy, such a list by that name didn’t seem out of the question. This is, after all, someone who began his memoir, Breaking New Ground, by calling his revered father, James, the “Father of Forestry in America,” claiming in quite a bit of hyperbole, “My Father’s foresight and tenacity were responsible, in the last analysis, for bringing Forestry to this continent.” In addition, he sprinkled fervent language throughout the memoir: “Being a convert to Forestry, I was eager to bear witness to the faith” being the best example.

Feeling puckish, I quickly responded to Eben with what I thought Gifford Pinchot’s Ten Commandments might have been. I can just picture Pinchot coming down the hill from Grey Towers with two tablets in his hands to speak to his green-clad followers and reading these aloud.

Pinchot’s Ten Commandments

  1. I am your Forester thy Chief.
  2. Remember the Transfer Date and keep it holy.
  3. Honor my Mother and my Father.
  4. Thou shalt always capitalize the phrases “National Forest” and “Forestry.”
  5. Thou shalt read daily from The Use Book (1905 edition only).
  6. Thou shalt prevent transfer of the Forest Service to the Interior Department.
  7. Thou shalt not alter the U.S. Forest Service name or shield.
  8. Thou shalt not take Theodore Roosevelt’s name in vain.
  9. Thou shalt not kill a tree before it has matured.
  10. Thou shalt not allow wildfires.
Pinchot with some of the faithful, aka, a timber marking group on the Yellowstone Forest Reserve in 1906.

Pinchot with some of the faithful, a.k.a., a timber marking group on the Yellowstone Forest Reserve in 1906. Pinchot is in the center, in white. He’s #7 in the lineup, but #1 in our hearts.

Well, it turns out that what the person was asking for was Pinchot’s Principles—his advice to guide the behavior of foresters in public office. Put forth in a lecture or a series of lectures in the early 1900s at the Yale Forestry School, these were listed as “Maxims for Foresters” in a sidebar for an article in the February 1994 issue of the Journal of Forestry. The list can also be found under the title “Pinchot Principles” as an appendix in the Proceedings of the U.S. Forest Service Centennial Congress, published by the Forest History Society. Without further ado, here they are.

Pinchot Principles

  • A public official is there to serve the public and not to run them.
  • Public support of acts affecting public rights is absolutely required.
  • It is more trouble to consult the public than to ignore them, but that is what you are hired for.
  • Find out in advance what the public will stand for; if it is right and they won’t stand for it, postpone action and educate them.
  • Use the press first, last and all the time if you want to reach the public.
  • Get rid of the attitude of personal arrogance or pride of attainment of superior knowledge.
  • Don’t try any sly or foxy politics because a forester is not a politician.
  • Learn tact simply by being honest and sincere, and by learning to recognize the point of view of the other man and meet him with arguments he will understand.
  • Don’t be afraid to give credit to someone else even when it belongs to you; not to do so is the sure mark of a weak man, but to do so is the hardest lesson to learn; encourage others to do things; you may accomplish many things through others that you can’t get done on your single initiative.
  • Don’t be a knocker; use persuasion rather than force, when possible; plenty of knockers are to be had; your job is to promote unity.
  • Don’t make enemies unnecessarily and for trivial reasons; if you are any good you will make plenty of them on matters of straight honesty and public policy, and you need all the support you can get.

As it turns out, Pinchot was prescient once again. His principles seem as apropos today as they were a century ago.

The following post comes to us courtesy of Stephen J. Pyne, an environmental historian who has written extensively about the history of fire and fire policy and is the author of the FHS Issues Series book America’s Fires. This posting originally appeared on the website AZCentral.com on July 5. It was written after the Yarnell Fire incident that killed 19 hotshot firefighters on June 30, 2013.

“AFTER THE FIRE”

This time it feels personal.

All day I had noticed a film of smoke, and before dinner I watched to the north as the pall thickened and sky roughened into blue cloud, and wondered if there was a fire there, and if the clouds meant the winds would be squirrely, and if they might affect any burn under way. There was and they did.

The news passes, the mourning goes on. So will the contentious interpretation of what happened, and why, and what we might do about it. It does no dishonor to the fallen to note that we’ve seen this too often before and that little new is likely to emerge beyond the sickening particulars. Still, it’s worth rehearsing the basics.

Over the past 140 years we have created, by missteps and unintended consequences, a firescape that threatens both our natural habitat and our built landscape. The problem is systemic, the result of how we live on the land. In many respects it resembles our health care system. Horrors like the Yarnell Hill fire are part of the usually hidden costs.

We know a lot about the issues. We know we need to replace feral fire with tame fire. We know how to keep houses from burning. We know that we face an ecological insurgency that we can’t carpet bomb out of existence or beat down with summer surges of engines and crews, that we have to control the countryside. We know the scene is spiraling out faster than we can scale up our responses: we would need the equivalent of a new Civilian Conservation Corps program to catch up. Every contributing cause points in the same worsening direction.

The political landscape seems an equal shambles. The fundamental issues are not policies, but politics, and not just inadequate funding but an inability to reach consensus about what we want and how to do it. Disaster fires get hijacked to advance other agendas, too many of which are stalemated.

We’ve lost our middle ground, literally—the middle landscape between the extremes, the wild and the urban, that have defined the American West for the past 50 years. The landscape is polarizing as much as society, splitting between green fire and red. We can’t slow sprawl except by recessions. We can’t reconcile wild and working landscapes.  Instead we ask fire crews to plug the gaps. There is little reason to believe that fire casualties in Arizona will jolt the system to self-correct any more than mass killings in Colorado and Connecticut led to gun reform.

Two trends are worth watching. A National Cohesive Strategy for wildland fire that seeks to reconcile resources with risks is in its final development phase. If it succeeds it will serve as a fire constitution, a messy mechanism by which the hundreds of competing interests might work through the necessary compromises with some political legitimacy. We could move fire management beyond emergency response.

The second is that the agencies may adjust internally. They have learned to declare fire-vulnerable houses indefensible and to refuse to commit crews to some high-risk firescapes with limited values. They are often adopting a big-box model in which they pull back to some defensible barrier and burn out. They may expand the notion of defensibility to include whole communities and landscapes when conditions are extreme—exactly the time the bad fires are likely to rage. At such moments communities would have to rely on their own preparations.

We would move toward a hurricane model of protection. You’re warned. You board up the windows and either leave or stay. The fire blows through. The crews move back and hit hot spots. The community returns.  In the case of natural landscapes, the mountain burns over.  We try to rebuild more resilient fire regimes out of the aftermath. A troubling prospect, but we’ve lost the chance to get ahead of the burn rate, and the gears of the Cohesive Strategy could easily freeze up when the time comes for real money and decisions.

Once the flame of grief passes, the shouting will begin again. But maybe this time we can make the political personal. We can fix what is within our hands. We can look inside and ask if we are ready to have others pay the price for how we live on the land. We can at least pause and in a moment of silence listen to the still small voice that comes after the fire.

Steve Pyne

School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University

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