There Are No Cool Heads in Portal…commentary by Ed Ashurstby Hugh Holub on May. 15, 2011, under border issues, environment water and energy, politics
Ed Ashurst is a rancher who lives over by the Chricahua Mountains in eastern Arizona. Here is a commentary he wrote on Sunday May 15th about the huge fire that is burning down the countryside over there:
There Are No Cool Heads in Portal
By Ed Ashurst
Irregardless of which side of the political spectrum you reside, Portal, Arizona is a beautiful place. Located in the mouth of Cave Creek on the eastern slope of the Chiracahua Mountains, it is not much more than a hole in a road, which continues west to the town of Paradise, and eventually ascends to the top of the mountain at a campground located at a spot called Rustler Park. The small populace of Portal is partially made up of retirees, wealthy enough to own a piece of the pricey land; not a few who could be described as liberal academics. A short distance up the canyon is The Southwest Research Station of The Museum of Natural History. This area, and the Chiracahua range as a whole, is the best example of neo-tropical bird habitat in the United States. It is the home of: the greater and lesser long-nosed bat, the famous trogon, the so-called “endangered” spotted owl, and hundreds of other rare species. It is bird watcher’s paradise. It is burning down.
About a week ago, what is now being called Horseshoe Fire #2 was started by illegal aliens in the area of Burro Springs near the headwaters of Horseshoe Canyon. Border Patrol agents tracked four aliens to the very start of the fire. The first Forest Service fire fighters to arrive at the site observed the same tracks. Horseshoe Fire #1 was started near the same spot almost exactly a year ago, also ignited by illegal aliens. In the last 3 years alone no less than 11 fires have been started by illegal aliens in the Chiracahua Mountains and the adjacent Peloncillo Mountains. No less than 120 thousand acres have burned. The cost to the American taxpayers to fight these fires is nearing $70 million. The U.S. Forest Service itself admitted that Horseshoe Fire #1 cost in excess of $10 million to fight.
The Three Triangle Ranch has a forest grazing permit in Horseshoe Canyon. In the summer of 2010 the Three Triangle manager was told by the Forest Service that his permit numbers were going to be cut to less than 200 head of cattle in a pasture that previously ran in excess of 400. Horseshoe Fire #2 is still burning out of control, consuming everything in its path, but in the first stages its primary fuel was grass, amply available due to under grazing on the Horseshoe allotment. The wind, blowing southwest to northeast, carried the fire at an astounding speed down Horseshoe Canyon and over a ridge into Sulphar Canyon (another under grazed allotment). From the mouth of Sulphar Canyon it skirted around the foot of the mountains by Sanford Hill going north to the very edge of Portal itself.
Three Triangle Ranch cows saved the town of Portal. The Forest Service will claim that a fire break made by their bulldozers should get the credit, but in reality, as the fire reached the edge of town it burned into a corner of a large cow pasture, one of the few that had been heavily grazed, and it simply ran out of fuel.
In 1994 there was a fire in the area near Rustler Park that became known as the Rattlesnake Fire. Prior to this fire, Forest Service employees had collected seeds from this area, and nurtured thousands of seedlings ready to plant. After the Rattlesnake Fire the Forest Service proposed a sale of burned timber to finance the planting of these seedlings in the area destroyed by the fire. The fight was on. The local environmental community, with the help of The Southwest Center for Biological Diversity and other eco-terrorists groups, sued the Federal Government to stop the timber sale. The court ruled in favor of the environmental community, but the Forest Service appealed and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals eventually overturned the original decision of the lower court, and ruled in favor of the U.S. Forest Service.
Not long before this, the Forest Service had proposed a small 10 acre timber sale near the same area which immediately set off a firestorm of protest from the same group of enviros. Within a matter of a few days they were able to inspire thousands of letters of protest against the proposed timber sale. The word was put out that the Forest Service was clear cutting the entire Chiracahua range, when in reality the sale was not to exceed 10 acres. Hundreds of these protest letters were written on university letterhead paper and signed by many PhDs from all over the United States. In frustration the Forest Service cancelled the timber sale thinking it not worth the fight. The results of this mismanagement and hatred of loggers and cowboys has produced an unnatural forest that is virtually choking on its own excess of downed timber, undergrowth and unharvested grass, that is at best a time bomb waiting to be set off by a bolt of lightening or in this case, the match of a drug smuggler.
The pendulum swings back and forth, with technique and practice going from one extreme to the other, and common sense often being overlooked. Our natural resources should be managed in a case by case manner with decisions being made by people with proven experience, (including permit holders), instead of being held hostage to the latest fad propagated by some PhD with no practical and hands on experience. The current method of managing fires is to let them burn from road to road or natural barrier to natural barrier. Fires, that twenty years ago would have been aggressively fought even in remote areas with destruction kept to a minimum, are now being allowed to burn over a greater expanse. The result is a forest habitat that is being nuked, with everything in its path being destroyed. Old growth timber on the Coronado National Forest is virtually gone as the result of fires. The enviros want to blame the loggers for this, but it is simply not true.
As I write this on Sunday morning May 15, 2011 I sit on the porch and look north about 10 miles and observe Horseshoe Fire #2 still burning out of control. The first stage of the fire burned eastward from Burro Spring, carried by a strong wind, but now after several days of relative calm the fire has burned westward climbing to very highest peak in the Chircahua range. I watch the fire from where I sit and can see that it is now around the corner of the mountaintop burning on the west face of the mountain. It has also burned around to the east side of the very top of the mountain. This east side where one fork of the fire is actually located is the very headwaters of Cave Creek itself. It’s what a cowboy would call downhill and shady from where it is at the moment to the Southwest Research Station and a short distance on down the creek to Portal. Cave Creek comes into Portal from a different angle than the first stage of the fire which I mentioned in a previous paragraph. The town of Portal is not out of danger yet. I’ve been in this area from top to bottom gathering cattle and can tell you first hand that it is chocked with down timber, brush and grass, the result of decades of so called protection by our federal government. The people in Portal and the surrounding area need to hope that the wind doesn’t start blowing again west to east like it has all spring or the second stage of this fire could be worse than the first. As of the morning of, Saturday the 14th of May, the fire had burned in excess of 20,000 acres of some of the southwest’s best wildlife habitat, not to mention millions of dollars of potential timber sales and grazable forage and on Sunday morning the 15th there is no end in sight.
Nobody around here is happy with the fire, not ever the Mexican outlaws who habitually pack their dope and other contraband over a trail that goes by Burro Springs and on north to multiple drop off spots, scattered from Portal all the way to San Simon or Bowie. Many residents in the area have quality radios and can listen to outlaw scouts who drive up and down Highway 80 between Portal and Douglas and relay information via radio to their narcotic packing counterparts. They transmit messages that contain the whereabouts of Border Patrol agents or anyone else who might interfere with the smuggling of their product. This last week these outlaw scouts were heard cursing the fire that they started, which now transcends the entire eastern slope of the Chiracahua range. They are being forced to send their contraband west to the Silver Creek area (the home of Roger Barnett) and on north across the western slope of the mountains.
While all this goes on I’m sure our politicians will make hay laying the blame on each other and their respective political parties. The result of all this will be more bureaucratic quagmire completely void of common sense or solution, and the fire continues to burn the trogon and spotted owl out of house and home. The fire still looms uphill from Portal whose residents are still in danger of losing everything, and dozens of federal employees sit down at their base camp 6 miles east of Portal on Highway 80 staring up to the top of the mountain hoping the wind will stay calm. All weather forecasts call for the wind to return on Monday the 16th.
While all this goes on, Janet Napolitano and our Campaigner in Chief assure us that our southern border is safer than ever. Try telling this to a trogon or spotted owl or perhaps a homo sapien living in Portal. They’re not playing it cool any longer and they won’t believe you.