The Call from “BB” was supposed to be one of our normal conversations, setting a time and place for us to meet. As soon as I recognized his tInephone number on my cell phone, I answered and pulled off the road to chat. “BB” however was far from his normal self. “You damn humans have done it again haven’t you? Where the hell am I supposed to winter this year? Where are all the little fawns supposed to go now?” I was stunned at his outburst. “BB” I said, what on earth are you talking about?” “BB” calmed down for a brief moment and started explaining. “The whole damn forest is burning down. All I can see is smoke. The whole herd is making tracks for the far northwestern reaches between Show Low and Heber. I never wanted to go back there, but thanks to you humans and that damn bear, we are heading back that way.” I had heard that there was a fire that had started and they had named it the Wallow fire. At that time however, we had no idea that it had gone to epic proportions and that a lot of lives would be changed by the inferno. “BB” started explaining what was going on and I was stunned. News had not yet filtered down to the Valley that the Wallow fire had taken off, so I was getting first hoof information about the fire. To say “BB” was angry is an understatement. He railed against humans and how we mismanage things and then lit into the “bear” again. I tried calming him down and said “BB” what bear are you talking about? “BB grunted over the phone “That stupid Smokey the Bear! All he ever says is that “only you can prevent forest fires” stuff. When will humans ever realize that fires are a good thing? If we had fires every year then none of the fuel buildups would occur, none of the thickets that hide tons of pine needles on the forest floor would just sit there waiting for a lightning strike or worse a careless human to cause a fire”.
“BB” was right on of course. He had lived through the Rodeo Chedeski fire and now the Wallow fire was pushing him back into his old haunts. I agreed with him that the philosophy of preventing forest fires had caused a huge buildup of thick forests that had no clean ups, no logging and very little water. The recipe for disaster stays with us each year. I tried to explain to “BB” the fact that the Forest Service had thought long ago that preventing forest fires was a good thing and that no one wanted to see a forest destroyed by thoughtless humans. The only down side to that was the logging industry ended up crippled by lawsuits from what we call tree huggers, and with no thinning of the forests and no removal of solid timber, each Arizona forest was destined to be an accident waiting to happen. I pointed out to “BB” that many humans were losing their homes as well and that the costs for this fire would be huge. “BB” however was having none of it. “Great” he said, “you humans can rebuild those stick homes – what are we going to do about our homes? It will take years to recover from this mess. Humans can recover almost overnight. Wildlife takes time to develop” .
Again, I felt badly for “BB”. As long as no human lost their life in the fire, items and homes can be rebuilt. I tried to remember when I had first heard about Smokey the Bear, and I have to admit, I think he has been around longer than I have… over 60 years. His message back in the 40’s and 50’s was spot on. No one wanted to destroy a forest and humans were typically the cause through dumb use of fires. But through decades of non intervention to clean up the forests, the Forest Service has created a situation that now will occur on a regular basis. All across the west, forest fires will continue until a better management practice of controlled logging, thinning by agra axe or other devices becomes a priority. The harsh reality came through the next day when Wapiti weekend was cancelled due to the fire. That afternoon, as I was riding eastbound towards Gilbert, I saw the huge clouds far off to the east. I realized that they were smoke clouds, thousands of feet high in the sky, created by the Wallow fire. I thought about the term “loving something to death”. In an effort to preserve the beauty of forests, and with litigation always on the horizon, humans have loved our forests almost to death.
“BB” was angry, frustrated and scared. A lot of wildlife in the White Mountains share his feelings, so do a lot of people who live there. We agreed to talk after the fire was contained. He had a lot he wanted to share with me, but he was pushing his bachelor crew along with a lot of cows and calves towards Heber. There would be time for talk after the danger was passed. I wished him well and told him I would pass on his concerns to the Forest Service. I gently reminded him that it was not Smokey’s fault. It was only humans who at the time did not know any better. So much for our superior intellect over nature.