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The Lakeland Times | Minocqua, Wisc.

Jim Tait 02/01-02/28/17

home : letters : letters August 17, 2017

6/13/2017 7:28:00 AM
I just can't take it anymore ...

To the Editor:

Just finished reading the "Back thru the times" section of the June 2 edition of The Lakeland Times. The article was entitled "91 years ago (1926) - Stand is Made to Save Wild Life." It got my dander up.

As an old retired guy who put in 30 years as a forester and a forest ranger in Wisconsin, I've been following with interest the on-going political battle over how we should fund the resource management in Wisconsin and trying to keep my mouth shut.

Just can't do it anymore.

Back then, the politicians of Wisconsin did something right! It seems a shame to take it all apart again.

Much of the article discussed the concern over "politics" and the "misuse of money collected for conservation purposes." Sound familiar?

The article reminded us of something we all know is true. It usually takes a major disaster to generate the kind of popular concern (and public outrage) needed to spur politicians into action. In this case, it was a forest fire - the Peshtigo Fire in northeast Wisconsin.

Most Wisconsinites living today are not really familiar with that event. It took place in Northeast Wisconsin on Oct. 8, 1871. It was the largest and most destructive forest fire in the history of the United States. It resulted in more loss of life than has occurred in any forest fire since. It was estimated that 1,500 to 2,500 people were burned to death in a single day.

Because it happened on the same day as "The Great Chicago Fire," it didn't get much press attention - even though more far more people died in Northeast Wisconsin than did in Chicago.

The fire generated a famous "March on Madison" by the people affected. That political action - taken by outraged Wisconsin citizens - resulted in the forestry program we have in Wisconsin today.

Thier cry was for the creation of a dependable, steady, continuing source of funding for the control of wildfire - and it actually worked. The "Forestry Mill Tax" was the result. It was not about lumber and paper mills. It was about setting up a continuing dependable source of money to be used specifically for forest fire control and the management of our states forestry resource. It was intended to be a steady, dependable long-term funding source specifically for the protection and sound management of Wisconsin forests over the long term.

And it worked!

As a result of that "march," the Wisconsin forest fire protection and forest management programs today are the envy of the nation. Don't believe it? Next time you go past a ranger station in Minnesota, Michigan or elsewhere, stop in and ask them about it.

It worked because the realization was finally driven home that you don't have time to put together a quality, trained forest fire organization with effective specialized forest fire fighting tools and machinery, after a forest fires starts.

Towns and cities found out the same thing. "Ya'll come" and bucket brigades only work to a point. You gotta have a trained fire department that has up to date equipment - in an adequate fire barn, ready to go, before the fire starts. That's what the Forestry Mill Tax was designed to do - provide a continuing level of funding for continuous update and replacement of fire equipment and on-going training and preparedness activities - money that politicians couldn't use for any other purpose. A steady source of money which could be counted on to train firefighters, replace critical equipment and prevent forest fire disasters - as opposed to big "one time fixes" after a major disaster. The fire department finally gets a new fire truck, but nobody gets a new house.

Apparently, the politicians have a better idea. They are moving the State Forester's office from Madison to Northern Wisconsin "because that's where the trees are" - that's a good thing. He'll be handier to the help all those forest rangers keep their old broken down machinery running. He'll be a busy guy.

When government finally does something that works - why mess with it?

Ken Sloan


Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, June 18, 2017
Article comment by: Pat McNamar

Looks like Peshtigo wins. From https://www.infoplease.com/world/fires-and-explosions/worst-us-forest-fires

Oct. 8-14, Peshtigo, Wis: over 1,500 lives lost and 3.8 million acres burned in nation's worst forest fire.
June 6, Seattle, Wash.: fire destroyed 64 acres of the city and killed 2 people. Damage was estimated at $15 million.
Sept. 1, Minn.: forest fires ravaged over 160,000 acres and destroyed 6 towns 600 killed, including 413 in town of Hinckley.
Sept., Wash. and Ore.: Yacoult fire destroyed 1 million acres and left 38 dead.
Aug. 10, Idaho and Mont.: fires burned 3 million acres of woods and killed 85 people.
Oct. 13-15, Minn. and Wis.: forest fire struck towns in both states 1,000 died, including 400 in town of Cloquet, Minn. About $1 million in losses.
Oct. 25-27, Maine: forest fire destroyed part of Bar Harbor and damaged Acadia National Park. In all, 205,678 acres burned and 16 lives were lost.
Aug. 5, Mann Gulch, Mont.: 12 smokejumpers-firefighters who parachuted near the fire-and 1 forest ranger died after being overtaken by a 200-ft wall of fire at the top of a gulch near Helena, Mont. Three smokejumpers survived.
Nov. 25, Calif.: fire destroyed 40,000 acres in Cleveland National Forest and caused 11 deaths.
Sept. 26, Laguna, Calif.: large-scale brush fire consumed 175,425 acres and 382 structures.
Aug.-Sept., western U.S.: fires destroyed over 1.2 million acres in Yellowstone National Park and damaged Alaska woodlands.

Posted: Friday, June 16, 2017
Article comment by: Dan Butkus

Helps to define "most destructive" In lives lost? In property damage? In acres lost? Montana probably takes the title in acres burned. Between the Chicago Fire and Peshtigo...well certainly a city burning puts it first in property damage. Peshtigo? Certainly had more horrific stories. Whatever.

To answer the question posed - governments mess with programs because 1) when they don't work well, they are called failures, and 2) when they work right, there's no problem so why keep the program? It's a no-win.

Posted: Friday, June 16, 2017
Article comment by: GD Holcombe

Peshtigo has a fine little museum with some fascinating displays and information about the fire. Among other interesting facts, a major owner of timber and sawmill operations in the Peshtigo area was from Chicago--and a major owner of real estate lost in that fire.

Posted: Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Article comment by: William Hunter

Very interesting letter. I just read the Big Burn and the Peshtigo Fire was not even mentioned. Further the Big Burn states unequivically that the 1910 fire in the Montana wilderness was the most destructive in history. Thank you for the education.

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