Steven Pyne has written numerous books about fire and I especially enjoyed "Fire on the Rim" about his summers spent suppressing fires on the north rim of Grand Canyon. Pyne is perhaps the foremost expert on forest fires and the Republic asked him to write an Op Ed piece about the Wallow fire. Unfortunately, the article was largely incoherent. Seriously, read it and you will see that he has no point. I spent some time wondering why Pyne--who won a McArthur Genius grant and is a best selling author--would write such a weak rant. I finally figured it out--Pyne is the world's foremost expert on forest fires and has finally realized that he has no clue how to manage a forest.
Let's go back to his book "Fire on the Rim." While is sounds like a history of Los Dos Molinos, the book is actually about Pyne's extraordinary efforts at fire suppression. We all grew up with Smokey the Bear and understood that forest fires were bad. Well, for the last 50 years, experts "knew" that the best way to prevent fires was to...well, prevent fires. They set up fire spotting stations and fast crews who could put out fires as soon as they started.
Experts have now realized that they got it completely wrong and we have seen the results. Fire suppression--together with misguided efforts to prevent logging--have allowed the forests to grow so thick that when fires do eventually occur, they become conflagrations of Biblical magnitude. If you see pictures or read stories about early life in Arizona, you will realize that forests in their natural state are like large meadows--early settlers could drive wagons in nearly any direction. Now you can't even walk through a forest. So fires that used to clear out debris, underbrush and small trees, now destroy entire forests, kill old growth trees and caramelize the soil.
My point isn't that the experts can't manage the forests. By now, everyone understands that. My real point is that forests--while inherently complex systems--are not nearly as complex as economies, or for that matter climates.
Those same people who were telling us about Smokey the Bear, were also telling us to eat lots of carbs via the now defunct "food pyramid" (and before that, the even more discredited "four food groups." They are the same group that warned us of the next Ice Age, the population bomb and banned DDT.
Steven Pyne's article is incoherent because he's out of ideas. After 100 years of expert forest management, the forests are much worse off than when we started. Pyne is not the first one to realize that smart people who are well intentioned can cause disaster; the central lanners the USSR, East Germany and South Korea had the same epiphany a few decades ago. That's about the time that "Japan Inc." collapsed. Now the Western European Democratic socialist model is collapsing as well. The American blue states are in the same boat. The only difference between Greece and California is that Greece will be bailed out by Germany and California will be bailed out by Texas.
So can we step back and examine the past with a little humility? Can we admit that we are not smart enough to govern complex systems? Can we stop trying to control the Climate? Can we admit that Government run health care might not be a good idea? Can we stop the Cash for Clunkers, Quantitative Easing, crony capitalism and bailouts?
While it seems like a great idea for smart people use the power of govenment to combat complex problmes, it generally leads to disaster. Think of that the next time you go to eastern Arizona and see the ashes that remain after 100 years of centrally planned expert forest management.