Wisdom of the Chipmunk

What can we do? Listen to the chipmunk.

The negative news just keeps coming. How does one deal with it all and make a positive contribution at the same time? I found my answer during a 10 day solo backpack in the Sierra Nevada when I encountered a chipmunk taking on the switchbacks up Colby Pass.

My pack was pulling me into the center of the earth, my legs were burning, and every time I looked up, the pass seemed to be crawling away. The whole ordeal was killing me. So I stopped, threw my pack down, and collapsed on the incline. The weather was threatening, so I knew I had to keep moving, but I couldn’t.

Then I saw the chipmunk. He was darting up the switchback ahead of me. Although at first glance he seemed to be scurrying along in fits and starts, he always stopped when the switchback turned. Right at the corner he paused, occupying himself with cleaning his little paws and looking around at the scenery. Then he was off again until he reached the next switchback corner. This went on until my little friend disappeared into the salt and pepper granite background.

That’s when it dawned on me. I could do that – set my goal to reach a certain point, then stop. I could do ten steps. That’s it then, ten. So I put my pack back on, got my breath back into my body, stood up straight, and did my ten steps. Then I stopped. My breath was still manageable, but I stayed put until I felt ready. Then I hiked another ten steps. I stopped at ten steps whether or not I felt like I needed to stop. I avoided looking up slope to see if the pass was closer. I thought about the chipmunk.


Each time I stopped, it was like a little celebration. Euphoria was bubbling up through my body. The pain became manageable. Tapping into small, incremental amounts of will power was incredibly powerful. I set an attainable goal, met it, and rejoiced in the achievement. Sure, my vision of reaching the top of the pass was somewhere in the background, but that was no longer my goal. If it had been, I would have remained overwhelmed. I couldn’t have mustered the strength to carry on.

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Cal Fire and Governor Newsom Ignore the Most Devastating Wildfires

Governor Newsom’s Executive Order to waive environmental protection laws for a large number of Cal Fire’s habitat clearance and logging operations ignores science, dismisses the lessons of the 2017 and 2018 wildfires, and is following the pattern President Trump has established – if facts get in the way of ideology, circumvent the facts.

The back story on this is that Cal Fire has consistently failed to produce a legitimate Vegetation Treatment Plan for more than 15 years. Draft after draft repeated the same mistakes, misrepresented scientific research, contradicted itself numerous times, and relied on logical fallacies to support its misguided conclusions.

As reported in the LA Times, Cal Fire “has been struggling for the last 15 years to certify a sweeping statewide environmental impact report.”

What that actually means is that the agency has been incapable of producing a competent plan based on science and has been called on it every time. We, along with many others like the Sierra Club and CNPS, have been at the forefront of the effort to expose the agency’s failure to develop a plan that would actually protect lives and property. At every turn, Cal Fire and the California Board of Forestry have continually turned back to their outdated clearance paradigm that serves little more than supporting the biomass and timber industries and Cal Fire’s entrenched bureaucracy.

Hence, Cal Fire convinced Governor Newsom to repeat the same approach to fire protection that has failed to protect us from the most devastating wildfires year after year.

Here’s our latest comment letter on Cal Fire’s latest Vegetation Treatment Program proposal.

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Cal Fire Needs to Think Outside the Box, But Can They?

Dear Governor Newsom,

The safety of our families and communities depends on your leadership.

You have an opportunity to be the first governor to inspire a successful wildfire policy based on science, not one dependent on a bygone era – an era during which we did not have to confront the challenges of climate change and an increasing population living near wildland areas.

However, Cal Fire will resist. They will say we need to take a “dual” approach in addressing wildfire – clear habitat and log now, then figure out a plan to harden homes against fire. What they mean is that they want to do more of what they have always done. This is the same approach that has failed to address the actual cause of loss of life and property since the 2003 Cedar Fire.

Cal Fire is in the fire suppression business, not the fire safe community business. As a result, they emphasize the misguided notion that they can control Nature by clearing habitat or logging forests far from where most Californians are at risk. Meanwhile, thousands of homes burn and lives are lost during wind-driven wildfires that ignite our communities miles ahead of the fire front, fires that Cal Fire will never be able to control.

We need to focus on making our communities fire safe now. The science is clear on this point. Communities have already proven that fire safe retrofits can be efficiently and quickly installed. The decision is not as complicated as some claim, it just requires the courage to question the status quo.

Every dollar spent logging forests far from where the majority of people at risk live and continuing what Cal Fire has always done, is a dollar less for fire safe communities. Such an approach will not only fail to protect the majority of Californians from wildfire, fail to meet our carbon sequestration goals, and fail to protect vital natural resources, but will in many cases make the landscape more flammable.

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Posted in Fire, Habitat Clearance | 1 Comment