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The natural cycle of fire 

The scope of recent wildfires in our region and in the West has been immense. The Pikes Peak Group of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Sierra Club expresses its sympathy to our members and all others whose lives, property, and well-being are impacted by the fires.

The tragedy of scarred slopes, displaced or dead wildlife, destroyed habitats, and diminished water, air, scenic and recreational qualities are also deeply saddening. We praise the thousands of firefighters and volunteers fighting to extinguish the blazes.

As post-fire reflection and restoration begin, several basic realities are important to remember:

Any ecosystem, including a forest, is incredibly diverse in its workings;

Fire is as natural and necessary (though sometimes fearsome) a part of healthy ecosystems as rainfall, decay and rebirth, insects and birds;

Humans do not fully understand the complexities of nature's systems, though great strides continue to be made in ecology, conservation biology, and allied sciences;

The intense wildfires of recent years result from a complex of environmental conditions (drought, wind, dense forest cover and others), developed over lengthy periods of time.

The most significant reality in the current forest management picture, as Sierra Club sees it, is that we have interrupted the natural cycle of fire on public and private forests throughout the past century, removing a key natural building block from the ecosystem.

During this time, all of us have received economic and social benefits from the near-blanket policy of fire suppression -- timber, short-term watershed protection, building location in forests, aesthetically pleasing scenery, recreation, increased habitat for some (though not all) animals, and others.

But with benefits always come costs. And, like it or not, we all must now pay.

Recent statements by some public figures and some newspaper editorials have wrongly placed a large portion of blame for poor forest management on the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations, while barely mentioning primary causes, such as fire suppression and intense logging. For decades, the Sierra Club and other conservation and scientific groups, often working closely with federal land managers, have promoted the planned use of fire as a key element in the health of public land and wildfire control.

Though Sierra Club occasionally disagrees with the agencies, we still support them and the laws under which they manage the lands, which are of inestimable value to the nation and the world.

The public domain is not, as some would have it, a discount store, where anyone with enough money can buy anything they want anytime. The Sierra Club believes that public lands must be preserved for the long-term common good of the American people.

The foundations of our public lands are their ecosystems. So, first and foremost, public land agencies, which manage on our behalf, must foster biological diversity and ecosystem health. From diverse, healthy environments flow sustainable benefits for all living creatures.

John Stansfield is Conservation Chair of the Colorado Springs Chapter of the Sierra Club.

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