July 6, 2017
Western Tanager male with wasp
Western Tanager male with wasp
“When we turn the Forest Service over to the bird and bunny lovers and the tree huggers and the rock lickers, we’ve turned our history over.”

As befits someone whose birding column is going on now, twice monthly, for almost twelve years, I will accept the label “bird lover,” even though I think in this case the usage of “lover” is a little too loose, a little too precious.    Birds fascinate me.  I find their form, their flight, and their song beautiful, and the nuances of their diverse lifestyles informative about the planet we call home.  Bunnies, not so much, and all this pales, of course, next to the context of the true love of my life for fifty-two years.

“Tree hugger” is somewhat more acceptable to me because, though I can’t recall ever putting my arms around a tree and embracing it, the label generally connotes someone concerned with the environment to the point of awareness with the existential issues confronting the preservation of man’s natural cocoon which we call Nature.  So . . . yes, I’m “green” if you will, and probably more comfortable with this second of two labels which have become pejoratives in the language of politicians of a certain persuasion.

“Rock licker?”  Really!  I’ve spent a lot of time in the woods, camping and backpacking most of my adult life, but I’ve never seen a human being lick a rock.  Haven’t, and can’t now even imagine it.  I know some animals get salt and other essential minerals from eating soil, and maybe from licking rocks, but they live under rocks too.  You know when a politician’s verbal imagery devolves into the absurd it’s a rant, not a Ted Talk.

Ten years ago this week Deva and I had driven to Cedar City for the Utah Shakespeare Festival.  We did an overnight up to Brian Head.  Wildlife was everywhere.  The scenery was spectacular.  A Western Tanager family, party of four, hawked for insects as dawn light bathed our campsite.  Deer browsed the open meadow.  A female Dusky Grouse led two chicks across the road.  Mountain Bluebirds’ electric blue rivaled the high mountain Utah sky.

The forests around Brian Head are now being consumed by an out-of-control wildfire, and Utah Representative Mike Noel is blaming you know who.  He finished the above rant by stating “We’re going to lose our wildlife and we are going to lose our scenery, the very thing you people wanted to try to protect.  It’s just plain stupidity.”  No Mike, the real stupidity is your desire to ease regulations on the logging industry which would allow them to “take” our forests.  How do you suppose that would work out for our wildlife and our scenery?

The response from the Forest Service was quick, sharp, and definitive.  It spoke to the complicated tapestry of life woven by the interaction of man and Nature:  the Brian Head fire was started by a property owner burning weeds but could just as easily and more likely have been started by lightning as were several of Arizona’s 2017 fires; logging is not profitable at high elevations because of logistic problems and how slowly the trees grow back; the theory that bark beetle infested trees burn faster has been disputed by science; every fire is unique based on former fire suppression, drought, climate, and wind direction.

Here’s the takeaway for the tree hugger writing this column—forest fires happen.  Toting up the expense of fighting them and the number of acres burned is a fool’s errand often undertaken by politicians in bed with the logging industry looking for someone to blame.

Here are what I believe to be the two best quotes from this covfefe.

Steve Bloch, legal director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance—“It’s shameful that Representative Noel has chosen to exploit the fire and mislead the public by saying that conservationists are to blame for this event.”

Chad Hanson, co-founder of the John Muir Project—“This is a direct outgrowth of the rhetoric of fear and hate coming out of the Trump administration.  It has emboldened some very anti-environmental voices.”

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For the beauty of the Mountain Bluebird, check out this link-- http://jimburnsphotos.com/pages/mountainbluebird.html