As the Rim Fire roars through the Stanislaus National Forest west of Yosemite National Park, threatening the city of Tuolumne, the park itself and the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, one has cause to remember that national forests seem to burn a lot more than private forests do. Part of the reason for that is that national forests occupy much more land in California than private forests. The other reason is management philosophy.
Private forests are managed to maximize timber yields. These forests, when harvested, are mostly clear-cut and quickly replanted. Underbrush is regularly cleared. National forests, on the other hand, are managed for recreational and environmental purposes. Underbrush generally isn’t cleared. Fires start more easily in this underbrush and spread quicker as a result.
Unless buildings, people or national monuments are endangered, as in the Rim Fire, some blazes in national forests may be left to burn or maybe only minimally controlled. This “let it burn” philosophy is controversial, but some national foresters fervently believe in it. That philosophy hardly ever would be in use on private forest lands, where preserving trees for harvest, then replanting after they are cut, are the goals.
A solemn pact among civilized nations has kept poison gas out of wars since the end of World War I. Now, we are seeing violations of this law by Syria’s ruling despot, Bashar al-Assad. The question is: Whose responsibility is it to enforce the law?
President Obama has drawn a fictional “red line,” which he says Assad must not cross; Secretary of State John Kerry has called the use of gas on civilians a “moral obscenity.” Yet, among civilized nations, including ours, there is little appetite for armed intervention.
Perhaps the thing to do is let the Arab nations sort it out, while we stand by to assist Israel in the event it is attacked and retaliates. Israel has the most pressing likelihood to have to defend itself, not to mention the guts to do it. Our record of intervening in Arab affairs the past 12 years has not resulted in good outcomes. Except, of course, for the killing of Osama bin Laden.