– The Justification Du Jour to Eliminate Nature –
We are being lied to.
It didn’t start out that way, but as is often the case when money and power are involved, the truth has suffered. And the lie has been crafted to be so compelling, to appear so intuitive, that many of us, including myself, have sometimes unwittingly contributed to its spread.
My career as a champion of the chaparral began in response to the lie. The journey since has been one of pitched battles, political intrigue, and enemies at the gate, but also of inspiring discoveries, triumphs, and friendship. I’m sure you’ve traveled a similar path many times in your life when you have spoken up for yourself, for a friend, or for a cause.
The truth has prevailed in the chaparral, mostly.
The climate has changed not only physically, but socially as well. The anti-Nature pitchfork mob we vanquished in San Diego County more than a decade ago has reappeared and is sweeping down from the plains of Sacramento into the precious wild places we cherish – cool, dense forests, expansive stands of old-growth chaparral, and secret pockets of Great Basin sage. To the mob, all of wild Nature is “overgrown,” full of “fuel”, and waiting to ignite. And they intend to fix it.
The fight for the chaparral in southern California was much easier than what we face now. Since humans have never figured out how to squeeze much monetary value from native shrublands, we never had to face entrenched financial interests. But the beautiful montane and episodic chaparral found in forested regions of the state is hated by those who make money (and advance careers) off of timber. Be it legacy lumber companies, new biomass corporations, the US Forest Service, Cal Fire, or researchers who depend on grants that fund forest research, chaparral is seen as a threat to trees. Demonized as ladder fuels, overgrowth, or brush-fields, chaparral that finds itself as part of the forest community, especially post-fire episodic chaparral, is seen as the enemy.
I’ll forever have the image etched in my mind of Steven Brink, a representative for the California Forestry Association, literally spitting as he described his negative feelings about manzanita and the need to get rid of it in the forest during a US Forest Service tour of the Rim Fire area in 2014. Similar antagonism towards episodic chaparral has led to the environmental devastation now occurring at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.
I have been warned many times to stay out of the forest. But I’ve never been able to reconcile what I saw on the ground as I hiked to what I was hearing from those in the forestry world – forests are supposedly “unhealthy” because they are clogged with overgrowth due to a century of fire suppression. Since the public and the media are consistently incapable or unwilling to make distinctions between different ecosystems, “forest” is a proxy for all of Nature. Hence, all of Nature is clogged and overgrown. That fallacy has been taken advantage of by all those who profit from exploiting Nature in all of its manifestations.
The profiteers are not limited to to those who obtain direct financial gain. They also include those who are able to expand bureaucracies, pass legislation that benefits future electoral success, obtain grants to conduct forest research or support land conservancy programs, or those who are just worried about their careers. One doesn’t get far in an agency or an organization that has embraced the fire suppression fallacy if one resists the company line.
The cost of pushing back can be high. The pressure to not offend, to not oppose those who control one’s livelihood, can be overwhelming. Jobs and friends can be lost. I was told by one of my best friends several years ago to “not come off appearing as though you are contradicting the fire suppression story because that will marginalize your ideas to many.” Fair warning. I’ve ended up ignoring that advice and have indeed upset a fair number of people, including the friend who warned me. I’ve made new friends.
The social fabric these days has been torn. Disagreements quickly become personal. If you are aligned with the work we have done at the Chaparral Institute, you’ll find much of what you read below as agreeable. If you had a visceral, negative reaction to the title of this piece, have already been upset with me, or disagreed with what the Chaparral Institute has done, most of what you read below will be contrary to what you believe.
I can’t control any of that, but I can control my own judgement of such things – a realization I’ve finally figured out after spending much of the past year studying Roman history. We are indeed in control of our lives and how we react. A warning I have embraced that has helped me put it all into perspective came from Marcus Aurelius – “The memory of everything is very soon lost in time.”
With such a view, the world looks to be a beautiful place.
Regardless of your views on fire suppression, environmentalists, and other living things, I think it is reasonable to assume that you have a full measure of wonder for Nature within. You enjoy being outdoors and are renewed by wildness. I also think you are probably well aware that the natural environment is at risk. I think we can find common ground there. With that spirit, I’m hoping you can read this series and understand the threat we face with our species’ chronic inability to think beyond ourselves.
“And anyone with a feeling for Nature—a deeper sensitivity—will find it all gives pleasure. Even what seems inadvertent. He’ll find the jaws of live animals as beautiful as painted ones or sculptures. He’ll look calmly at the distinct beauty of old age in men, women, and at the loveliness of children. And other things like that will call out to him constantly—things unnoticed by others. Things seen only by those at home with Nature and its works.”
– Marcus Aurelius
Part II forthcoming.