“It’s a growing population, it’s the reduced amount of water, it’s a changing climate and it’s the bark beetle – it’s a perfect storm of factors I suppose,” says Brian Rutledge, regional vice president for the National Audubon Society. “Learning is one thing, being able to act is quite another.”
At the time, the destruction of the Hayman blaze stunned both Colorado and the country. Images of flames ripping through communities and reducing mountainsides to ashen moonscapes prompted many to criticize the US Forest Service, whose management policies had disrupted the pattern of cyclical fires that periodically swept through wilderness area cleaning out dead trees and debris but without the catastrophic consequences. By doing that and by encouraging clear-cutting rather than selective cutting, the Forest Service unintentionally made forests prone to bigger, more destructive fires.
“We understand 100 years later that fire is Mother Nature’s way of keeping nature clean, it’s housekeeping,” says Carol Ekarius, executive director of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, an organization that helped restore charred forests in a watershed larger than Rhode Island. “What we have here is the law of unintended consequences that’s coming back to haunt in full blush.”