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escribacat On March - 26 - 2011
FourMile fire

The mountainside beyond this one escaped the fire

Last Labor Day, the mountains west of Boulder were set ablaze by a fellow who didn’t keep a close eye on an outdoor firepit (a volunteer fire fighter, no less). Called the FourMile Canyon Fire, it destroyed 166 homes and burned 6500 acres. Luckily, nobody was killed.


Today I spent the day up FourMile Canyon with a hundred other volunteers. We were there to seed a section of the area with grass to keep it from eroding. It was a fantastic day of people giving back to the mountain and the forest, showing our love for the Rockies. It was hard work – cold and windy in the morning; dusty and sooty in the afternoon. Some people threw seeds, the rest of us raked the seeds into the dirt.

The team leaders were young members of AmeriCorps. One of them, Vinny, was a twenty-something man who just got his degree in finance. Instead of heading for Wall Street, he decided to spend a year in AmeriCorps. Another team leader was 18-year-old Scott from New York City. Before coming to Colorado to spend two months working in the FourMile burn area, their team was in New Orleans.

These young people are smart, inquisitive, and dedicated. They get paid about $11 a day, plus room and board. They give me hope for the future. They also aren’t sure if they’re going to be finishing up their stints since the proposed House GOP budget completely eliminates AmeriCorps. However, according to Vinny, Obama’s budget increases funding for the group. Hopefully, the reliably short-sighted Republicans will lose this battle.

One particularly pleasant part of the day came when our congressman, Jared Polis, showed up. Polis is a hard-working, openly-gay, liberal democrat who cares a lot about environmental issues and who went to bat for the Public Option during the HCR debate. I’m quite proud to have him as my congressman. A friend and I got to chat with him and he hammed it up a bit for our cameras. I am very pleased to say I managed to get in a jab at the Huffington Post. I thanked him for his work on behalf of the Public Option and told him I now had insurance because of the democrats’ work on HCR. We asked him how he liked living in D.C. and dealing with all the Republicans in the House. He was very diplomatic in his response and mentioned that he gets on the elevator every day with a certain wild-eyed congresswoman (my words, not his).

Perhaps the most encouraging thing about the day – and something that made me think of our friends in Japan — was that, here and there, through all the chunks of burnt trees and bushes, and all the grime and soot, we spotted tiny wildflowers making their way up into the sun.

FourMile Fire

Burnt out tree

Burnt out stump

Seeding FourMile Canyon burn area

Some of the "seeding" crew takes a break

Jared Polis

Congressman Jared Polis (D-Colo) obligingly plays "American Gothic" for us

Categories: Environment

36 Responses so far.

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  1. ADONAI says:

    What a great way to spend a day, e-cat! That Polis guy seems like a real cool dude. Don’t see too many politicians actually working with their constituents on something important to them.

    I love the forest myself. I never had to walk far growing up to be surrounded by the beauty of nature. We have had several fires in our time,and like the firemen there, ours watched for people and structures but let nature take its course.

    It’s a great time for forest lovers. There are more trees and forest area on Earth right now than at any other time in known history. National and international laws for logging companies require them by law to replace every tree they bring down. The best thing you can do for the Earth is pass up that plastic and get paper. Help plant some new trees.

    • escribacat says:

      It was a great day, Adonai. There was a lot of talk about whether they’d be planting new trees but I don’t know if they’re going to do that or not. Colorado and many other areas of the west also have a huge problem with the bark beetle — it’s a bigger problem than forest fires. Here’s a shot I found on wikimedia commons from British Columbia. The brown areas are all dead trees, killed by the bark beetle, aka pine beetle.


    • bito says:

      AD, tree farms are not forests. Logging companies do not replant mixed forests, they plant the next harvest.

      • KQuark says:

        True but it’s much better to get lumber from tree farms than from virgin forest land. All industries are not equal either the logging industry is the big culprit when it comes to clear cutting and not replanting trees. The pulp and paper industry is much more responsible in the way it uses trees like a crop to be replanted and the industry plants far more trees than it cuts down. Not to mention due to the difference in final products lumber versus pulp and paper, the paper industry recycles more and more which again lets them use less and less virgin fiber sources.

        My biggest problem with the pulp and paper industry has always been it’s contribution to water and air pollution.

        We talk allot about how burning coal is a huge source of CO2 but pulp mills burn one of their manufacturing by products called lignin which is actually worse than burning coal. In one respect burning lignin is a good thing because they are burning a product that would enter the waste stream and generate up to 60% of their own electrical power but on the other hand it’s and extremely dirty substance to burn because it has far more Sulfur in it than coal, hence the awful smell near pulp mills.

        Obviously the long term answer is already being addressed and the paper products we use today are from over 53% recycled fiber and astoundingly 77% of packaging we use is made of recycled paper. In many ways the pulp and paper industry should be used as a model for the way we can make an old dirty industry cleaner and more sustainable.

        • bito says:

          Oh KQ, I wold never argue with you about the pulp & paper industry, you know more than I ever will. 😉 My point, poorly made, was mixed forests support a very diverse amount of life and quite often when they are logged they are replanted with cultured S-P-F (spruce-pine-fir) for the next harvest. SPF tends to acidify the soil and discourage any any many types of other plants. Much of the native flora and fauna is lost. I have seen, walked and logged in many of tree farms and forests. There is a difference. Many of the tree farms in the south are/were planted on fallow fields and I have no problem with that at all. Hell, I was a carpenter, I needed those 2X4’s, but I didn’t like them going into the swamps in Florida to cut down Cypress to make mulch.

          • escribacat says:

            Bito — the same goes for the grasses. They were very careful to select native grasses — though the guy I asked couldn’t tell us what they were. The areas that we seeded were limited to one hundred feet on either side of the roads. The explanation was that they needed to keep out other non-native grasses that get carried up on the tires of vehicles and that tend to take over.

          • KQuark says:

            Your point was valid and I understood what you meant. I was trying to expound on it from the pulp and paper perspective. You are right in a way the South does do it “right” where they use the loblolly pine as a crop.

            I would not venture into your expertize about flora and fauna and lumber products either because you know much more than I.

            I think the West coast is a particular problem because they still do tree “mining” and I’m sure you know that is the most devastating practice. Anyone who has flown into the Portland airport can see that.

            Cypress swamps are just incredible. I had the unique privilege of going on an air-boat ride after a series of heavy rains and saw parts of cypress swamps people seldom see. They really are enchanted forests.

      • ADONAI says:

        bito, My bad. Thought they were in a forest. Well, it appears there are still some areas that require a more personal touch :)

  2. KQuark says:

    Thanks for sharing an inspiring story.

    I hope this generation coming up and newer generations are the answer. For the life of me I don’t know how the peace and love generation of the 60’s and 70’s turned out to be the same generation that identifies itself as being conservative to liberal 2 to 1.

    • KillgoreTrout says:

      KQ, a relentless demonization of the counter culture by conservatives.
      Plus many people became disenchanted with the counter culture because many of the, “new ways,” didn’t really work out, because some of the alternative ways of living were too lofty to actually put into practice.
      But far too many people gave up too soon, and many of them allowed the right to demonize counter culture ideals.

      • Khirad says:

        And many of them were really genuine in the first place, or just being fashionable.

        • KillgoreTrout says:

          Flower Children were the fashionable ones. Many people don’t make a distinction between genuine Hippies and Flower Children.
          The Diggers in San Fran were the original Hippies and the majority of them were intelligent, college educated people who were fed up with the society of the 50s and before. They saw how many of society’s ways were detrimental. There was a popular poster back then that read, “Like Father, Like Son, Like Hell!”

          • Khirad says:

            Exactly. That’s the distinction (from what I hear -- I don’t have any first-hand observations to draw from, of course).

            • KillgoreTrout says:

              Khirad, once the US media got hold of the Hippies, it was the beginning of the end for the counter culture. It was the media and advertisers that created the Flower Children.

    • escribacat says:

      KQ--How did that happen? I’m probably stereotyping but it seems to me that the children of the 60s flower children grew up to be quite materialistic. It’s a puzzle.

      • KQuark says:

        That was the biggest factor indeed but I think many that were more moderate were scared away by the radical left back then. Remember back then it was the extreme left that was bombing institutions and used more extreme methods. Hopefully the ultra-extremism on the right now will have the same unintended effect for their cause.

        We have to face the bottom line fact that Americans are still tribal voters. The GOP is simply the defacto white party and the Democratic party represents the multiculturalism white people won’t admit but they still fear.

        I mean look at AD’s excellent post on MacCarthyism it’s mostly driven by xenophobia against brown people. Remember the Red Scare was about not trusting different ethnicities as well. Those hearings targeted Jewish people disproportionately but also fit will into fearing that African Americans would actually become equal and of course the undercurrents of the Yellow Menace.

        • KillgoreTrout says:

          KQ, The Flower Children were really just into the fashionable aspects of the counter culture. Genuine Hippies were educated, intelligent people who were very serious about finding ways to remove themselves from what they accurately saw as a very corrupt and violent society. They wanted nothing to do with the existing society of their parents and grandparents generations.
          The Flower Children were basically just having fun at, “playing,” Hippies.

  3. Pepe Lepew says:

    That reminds me very much of hiking through Glacier several years ago, the summer after a huge forest fire. There was absolutely no shade and for about four miles, you hike through this burnt-out trees.

    I hiked that same trail a couple of years later, and there was thick bushy underbrush, a lot of huckleberries and salmonberry bushes. Then I hiked it a couple of years later and it was like hiking through a head-high jungle. The growth had become incredibly lush. It was so thick that we literally damn near walked right on top of a black bear. You couldn’t see him until it was too late (fortunately, he scurried off … and more fortunately, it wasn’t a grizzly.).

    Doing that you realize how much wildfire is really part of the natural ecosystem. The Forest Service figured that out about 10 years ago, and now they let forest fires burn, especially if they are lightning-caused and aren’t threatening people or structures. It drives the old-timers crazy, but fire is part of nature.

    • escribacat says:

      Pepe, I think they do let fires burn in those cases you describe. This area (still) has a lot of houses. It’s only about fifteen minutes from Boulder. I remember during the fire they were threatening to evacuate the westernmost areas of Boulder, but I don’t think it actually got that bad. I can’t wait to drive up there this summer and see the grasses we planted growing on the hillsides. Apparently they will fly over with mulch. Unfortunately, it’s been a really dry winter and the ground was bone dry. I hope we get some moisture this spring!!

  4. choicelady says:

    What wonderful work, and then wonderful words, e-cat! Thank you for the restoration work. I know fire is important to forest renewal, but this fire was not “natural” so it’s right to have human intervention to help anchor the floor and let the renewal begin. How cool your Congressman was there, too! Thank you for this hopeful story of nature and human nurture all rolled into one.

    • escribacat says:

      Thanks, C-lady. It really is debatable whether it’s such a hot idea to build all those million dollar homes up in the mountains in such a dry climate as ours. Though many are rebuilding, a lot of the people there decided not to. I don’t think I would.

  5. Questinia says:

    What kind of grass seed?

  6. Truth says:

    Escribacat, thank you so much for sharing this with us the way you did. Lovely, excellent, perfect, thanks!

  7. kesmarn says:

    e’cat, what a bright spot in the midst of a lot of less-than-happy news over the last couple of weeks.

    Your congressman looks like a wonderful guy. Hang on to that one; he’s a keeper!

    Thanks to you and the AmeriCorps gang for a real contribution to the future of a beautiful area. And I ardently hope the GOP doesn’t succeed in killing off such a terrific program.

    • escribacat says:

      Kes, you are right. I really am impressed with Polis. He’s young and smart and approachable. Not only that but he drives my conservative brothers nuts. Makes it all worth it!!

  8. whatsthatsound says:

    Really nice read, e-cat! I’m glad to read about AmeriCorps and would love for it to become a fixture.
    Nice pictures, too!

    • escribacat says:

      Thanks, Whats. Every time I saw one of those little wildflowers, it was like a little encouraging statement about recovery. I know this will end up being the real story in Japan as well.

  9. Orcas Island says:

    escribacat- great story. Enjoyed the photos.

    • escribacat says:

      Thanks, Orcas. The burnt wood was really quite beautiful. I took a lot of pictures of it. On one hillside where the fire was apparently really hot, there were strange gaps in the ground marked with tunnels that looked really deep. It was obviously where a tree had burnt so thoroughly that the roots had disintegrated and left these tunnels.

  10. AlphaBitch says:

    Thanks, e’cat. I appreciate your work, and your reporting -- on both the environmental recovery and on the hope expressed by the young Americorps workers.

    Still hoping to get out there this spring; still on for Santa Fe at end of April. Everything else up in the air at present, but soon I hope. I’ll shoot you an email.

    • escribacat says:

      Hey, AB. I really loved those AmeriCorps kids. I suppose I do have an impression that a lot of young people are just sort of narcissistic and ignorant. These kids were everything but that. The 18 year old was quizzing me about my life…incredibly curious. And adorable. He was a very handsome Jewish kid and wanted to see a Jewish president someday. He said maybe he would run!

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