Archive for the ‘wildfire’ Tag

A Wildfire on Wall Street

The nation—and perhaps the world—is the on the brink of an economic meltdown. The only solution is an infusion of cash from the federal government. This is what we are being told by the economic deciders in New York and Washington.

Not so fast, say observers on main streets and college streets around the country. These are poorly managed companies; their suffering is the result of bad decisions; let them reap the whirlwind.

I am not an economist so I am not in a position to judge.

But it does remind me of another debate that rages under the radar of public interest and media attention: federal policy on wildfires.

Two years ago I spent several days in Yellowstone National Park. It is the oldest and arguably the most famous national park in the world. Standing at Gibbon Falls I studied the lingering signs of a forest fire that swept through the Yellowstone in 1988.

“It burned a million acres,” a ranger later said, “and thousands of fighters from all corners of the nation came to help.”

“I am fascinated by the blackened trees,” I said. Most were mere poles, charred all around, with short, barren limbs poking out all the way up. No tree had any greenery.

“What we discovered is this,” the ranger continued. “Burning the green canopy that the trees provided opened up the wilderness floor. Not only has the ground cover returned in full force and with renewed vigor, there are species of plants that never would have grown under the old conditions.”

“And what about the wildlife?” I asked.

“Slightly different,” he responded, “but as rich and varied as before.”

He was spouting, I later learned, national policy shaped by the modern environmental movement. Not everybody agrees, and there are a million websites to assert and attack almost any proposed policy on management of the wilderness trees and their periodic fires.

What exactly is the long term effect of a wildfire? Does it clear off dead material and make way for the new? Or does it destroy good timber and habitat, demanding decades to recover?

Exactly the question that faces citizens around these United States. A wildfire is racing down Wall Street. Should be put it out, taking resources that could be used to better advantage elsewhere—or should we let it burn, clearing dead wood and making space for new ideas, new investors, new institutions, new experiments?

I am not an economist, but after visiting Yellowstone, I am not afraid to let her burn!