When I swing open the batwing doors of the Iron Door Saloon in Groveland in the late afternoon next Saturday, I’ll proudly hang my chin out for any hunter to punch.
Next Saturday, Oct. 21, is the opening of quail hunting season in this part of the state and for the past two years I’ve stopped at the Iron Door for a bump on the way home to celebrate and swap lies with other smiling hunters. I’m sure I’ll be giddy again this year, but don’t worry, I won’t even fight back if a dusty man in blaze orange takes a swing at me because I’m about to violate the hunter’s omerta – or code of silence: I’m divulging my best hunting spot.
Take Highway 120 10 miles east past Groveland. Right before you get to Buck Meadows, look for signs for “Hamilton Station Loop” road. Across the highway from the West end of the Loop, there’s a green gate. Behind that gate is thousands of acres of public land with more valley and mountain quail and deer than you can shake a 20 gauge at.
I’m giving away my best hunting spot, and maybe take a beating, because I’m desperate for people to see for themselves what good wildfires create. If enough hikers, hunters and campers see the beauty in the burn, maybe we can handle future wildfires in a radical new way.
Back in 2013, the Rim Fire became the largest on record in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and while plenty has been written about the size, cost and even recovery of the burn, people need to see it for themselves before they consider my idea of managing our forests entirely crazy.
Admittedly, a fresh burn is ugly. Even four years later, most of the Rim ground is still sooty black with big log piles everywhere and the tallest green things growing are thorny and nasty looking. Fire killed the really big trees that were sucking springs before they broke the surface, now tiny seeps of water trickles everywhere, turning slopes into insect-ridden swamps. Hideous, but beautiful to quail and deer and we critters who want to eat them.
Even the most urbanized techie living in a new highrise on the edge of Pleasanton repeats what they’ve overheard, saying “Sure, forest fires are natural, but ...”
There’s always a caveat that they be small, started by lightning and controlled. Our forests are so chocked and overgrown from decades of aggressive fire suppression, we just need fires. Period.
I sound like a monster, talking like this only days after big parts of Santa Rosa got burned into a hellscape, but how else can we move the discussion past Smokey the Bear, that most unnatural beast?
I’m asking Californians to consider the “Hurricane” approach to fighting wildfires. Just like it sounds, when there’s a fire on the mountain, we clear everyone out for miles around, let nature do its thing, then go back in later to see what’s left.
We would fight a wildfire like we fought Irma and Harvey, first by trucking people out. This would save our forests, money and lives. Cal-Fire is the multi-billion dollar agency responsible for 31 million acres of public and private forests and in the past three years, its budget – just to fight wildfires – has more than doubled, from $242 million in fiscal year 2013-14 to $608 million in 2015-16, according to Cal-Fire spokesman, Scott McLain.
The real price of our national forest fire fighting strategy is in the new release “Only the Brave,” a film depicting the deaths of 19 hotshots in the Yarnell Hill Fire started by lightning in 2013 in Arizona. That’s one flick I’ll miss, but I read the final investigation report that said, “The Yarnell Hill area had not experienced wildfire in over 45 years. It was primed to burn.”
Posted above the gate at the entryway to my no-longer-secret hunting spot is a big wooden sign that reads, “Penny Pines Plantation: The Stanislaus Complex fire destroyed 144,000 acres of valuable National Forest Timber, watershed and wildlife in 1987.”
I had planned on defacing that sign for years with a chisel, replacing “destroyed” with “created,” but now I’ll leave it as a testament to hubris.
Fires should not be fought. Fire is a friend we should welcome in every 25 years or so.
Steve Taylor, a resident of Oakdale, is a behavior analyst. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.