Ely Times column: ‘Smoked Bear’ is no typo

Smoked Bear

Smoked Bear: Before 1980 less than 25,000 acres burned in Nevada wildfires each year. Now that number’s gone up to 600,000. That’s an increase of 24 times as many acres.
Jimmy: That’s a lot of rabbits and deer and birds. What can we do?
Smoked Bear: Write and call the Forest Service. Ask them to reduce the wildfire fuel on the land.
Jimmy: What’s fuel?
Smoked Bear: It’s grass and plants that cattle and sheep used to eat. The Forest Service could reduce the fuel by allowing cattle and sheep to graze before it burns.
— Radio commercial at SmokedBear.com

That’s no typo. The protagonist of this and six other radio spots being played for the past two years in Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico is Smoked Bear, not Smokey.

That is the lede on today’s column in the Ely Times. It is about a campaign by Elko attorney Grant Gerber, who grew up in a ranching family and has worked on countless land and water use issues across the country for decades.


His Smoked Bear message is not that “only you can prevent wildfires” — since more than half of wildfires in Nevada are started by lightning — but that increased grazing by cattle and sheep on public lands could decrease the size of wildfires and the number of wild animals killed by them — probably well more than 1.5 million pygmy rabbits, cottontail rabbits, chipmunks, porcupines, deer, squirrels and sage grouse this year alone.

More than 500,000 acres have burned in Nevada this year and in 2006 more than 1.3 million acres burned.

Gerber estimates the number of cattle in Nevada is down by well over 50 percent and the number of sheep is down by over 95 percent from the early 1900s, with the biggest reductions coming since the 1950s, coinciding with the increased size of fires.

Coincidentally, the Nevada Department of Wildlife estimates the deer population in Nevada was nearly 250,000 in the 1950s, but due to various factors, including wildfire, the population has dropped to less than 100,000.

To further the education process, Smoked Bear is offering $70,000 in scholarships and prizes to Nevada children and young adults in an essay and poster contest. See the website for details.

7 comments on “Ely Times column: ‘Smoked Bear’ is no typo

  1. Andrew says:

    First, management of our natural resources is a good thing. With that being said, one should never rush into such management decisions without all the facts or, God forbid, junk science.

    One pretty vetted theory, is that over the last 110 years in many parts of the western US, overgrazing has played a large part in facilitating our over-grown forests and the catastrophic, hard-to-control wildfires of the last decade.

    In the west, many landscapes are adapted to periodic fire. Grass, or fine fuels, were the primary carriers of that fire. Grass allowed the low intensity, high frequency fires to naturally move across large sections of land, consuming accumulated fuels and thinning forests. This maintained plant diversity and healthier ecosystems.

    Point is…healthier landscapes are better for ranchers, better for wildlife and better for fire management. Land managers should listen to ranchers and ranchers should listen to land managers. ecosystem functions are incredibly complex and intertwined, and hence are the associated issues….so beware slogans trumpeted as panaceas, especially those that smell like agendas.

  2. If it is so complex, what makes you think anyone can “manage” it?

    Try the simple solution first.

    As for agendas and slogans, the so-called environmentalists have been masters of that craft for decades.

  3. Steve says:

    A great example of envirnmentalist and science following gut knowledge is El Nino ans La Nina. Fishermen in the area knew of the changes for generations. Science took a wait and see approach to it instead of learning from the people in the region. Same thing is happening with land management.

    Environmentalists for decades refused to allow any logging in California forests but demanded the fires put put out as soon as possible. A recipe for the huge unstoppable fires we see each year now. By contrast much of the western states have learned from this and pushed those radicals out. Now logging is being done in ways that clean the forest, leave enough trees to have a forest and remove the fuels fire loves. All of which allows young trees to take hold on the clean forest floor, which is what the smaller forest fires used to do naturally. This is very visible in southern Utah, not far from here. Additionally Utah is not closing roads, they rotate them. Opening some while closing others. This has several good effects, the road does not become so permanent it might as well be paved, people get to see the forest up close from ATV’s which cover many more miles than hiking can, these trail roads allow for shorter routes over which Elko seems to be complaining the loudest. By closing off large areas of land the public does not get to see the benefits (or the failures) of the management which results in resentment and anger.

    The forests look far healthier when they are clean. The forest service and locals know this, it all seems to be a power struggle and the loser in that is the land.

  4. The best solution would be to put more land into private ownership.

  5. Steve says:

    Well put, more land not all land. But roads need to remain open so all can see how the land is being used and maintained, by enjoying it in person.

    ATV use needs to be encouraged not reduced. With large tracts of land to see and enjoy this is the best way to actually do this. Hikers are great but they only get to see a very small portion of the land. For real potential oversight of our lands and the managers, we need access.

  6. Rights of way are negotiable.

  7. […] the acreage consumed by wildfire in the state each year is more than 600,000 — 24 times as […]

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