What’s especially shameful about America’s response to the forest health crisis is how this famously can-do country — a land that once prided itself on its ingenuity, innovation and boldness in embracing big challenges – simply surrendered tens of millions of acres of prime national forest to beetle infestation and wildfire, without even firing a shot in self-defense. Vast expanses of public property, worth billions of dollars, have been laid to waste, in the biggest act of self-inflicted vandalism in history, as politicians, academics, federal eco-crats and environmental groups stood along the sidelines, shrugging their shoulders, wringing their hands or making excuses for inaction.
The problem is too big and expensive to manage, said some. It was just part of the “natural process,” said others. Then, of course, “climate change” came along as a convenient excuse for complete surrender – since what can possibly be done to save forests when we haven’t yet capped the carbon emissions allegedly driving them (and us) toward calamity? So Americans stood by and watched our forests devoured, burned, destroyed, without lifting a finger in their defense. We went directly from a state of denial to waving the white flag of surrender.
But it didn’t — and still doesn’t — have to be this way. Fighting back and winning is possible, as this news out of Canada makes clear. When faced with a forest health crisis of its own, the province of Alberta fought back. And those efforts are showing results – results that ought to embarrass the American politicians, bureaucrats and advocacy groups that passively watch the U.S. forest health crisis and wildfire threat unfold.
Yes, it was expensive. But what’s a few billion dollars to a country that wastes money on the scale America does? If we have billions of dollars to squander on green energy boondoggles like Solyndra, surely we can, if our priorities were in order, apply a few hundred million to saving national forests from destruction. What value can you place on the tens of millions of acres that have been decimated by beetles or burned? What quantity of carbon emissions are released by wildfire seasons like we just saw? – which is only one in a long string of such seasons.
Yes, the challenge is big — maybe even “huge” given our prolonged inaction – raising the question of whether it’s just too late to act. But does a cancer doctor surrender just because he or she can’t eradicate every tumor, or completely reverse the damage already done? Isn’t it worth saving some forests even if it’s too late to save them all?
And yes, weather conditions in the Canadian Rockies may not exactly mirror those further south. But there must be methods and lessons from Alberta’s success that can be applied here. Surely a nation that put a man on the moon can find a creative and affordable way to battle a pine bark beetle, if it had the will, and the interest, in doing so.
That it doesn’t seem to have an interest in doing so is something future Americans may puzzle over. Let’s just hope historians of the future will at least be honest enough to note that it didn’t have to happen this way: that America could have won the war against forest threats, and mounted a successful defense of its precious public lands, if it had only stirred itself to make the effort.