The C.A.S.H. Courier Newsletter
Fall-Winter 2013 Issue
Is Hunting Really Worth it?
By E.M. Fay
Hunter Devastates Yosemite and its Wild Inhabitants
The magnificent natural treasure we now know as Yosemite National Park
has been in existence in much the same form for tens of thousands of years.
Currently consisting of nearly 1200 square miles, it is a jewel set in the
Sierra Nevada Mountains of Northern California, due east of San Francisco.
This historic wilderness, known for its ancient sequoias, granite rock
formations, breathtaking waterfalls, and abundant wildlife, was first
protected in 1864, signed into being by President Lincoln as the country’s
first state park. Famed naturalist John Muir became enthralled by this
region when he visited in 1868. Partly because of his interest, it was
converted to our first national park in 1890.
The name Yosemite is taken from a tribe that lived in the area before
being massacred by U.S. soldiers.
Native American peoples lived here well before the arrival of Europeans
in the mid-nineteenth century. The ruggedness of the landscape
dissuaded all but the most intrepid travelers for decades, but in 1907, the
Yosemite Valley Railroad was established between Merced and El Portal, which
increased the number of visitors. Now, over 3 million tourists come
annually to experience the beauty of this special place. Although most
visitors respect the land and its natural inhabitants, the presence of so
many humans has inevitably altered the landscape and affected wildlife.
One of the most destructive consequences of human trespass is the starting
of forest fires.
Natural fires occur in Yosemite as in other forests, caused by lightning
strikes and other phenomena. They may involve nothing more than a
single burning dead tree, or they may spread farther. In some cases,
naturally caused fires are considered helpful, as they clear out underbrush
from the forest floor, which can prevent a larger fire in the future by
removing potential fuel. However, human-caused fires are incredibly
destructive. These are usually caused by either carelessness, “controlled”
burns becoming uncontrolled, or an unconscionable malevolence.
The recent massive fire that burned in Yosemite National Park and the
Stanislaus National Forest for over a month has been determined to have been
started by a hunter. The Rim Fire, as it was called, began on August
17th in the Stanislaus National Forest, burned over a quarter of a million
acres, killed unknown numbers of wild animals, destroyed scores of
buildings, required the services of over 5,000 firefighters, and cost
$127 million to fight so far.
Ever-changing winds and low humidity added to the difficulty of
containing the blaze, which was approximately 80% contained by September
11th. Spot fires continued to erupt at or past the lines of
containment, keeping fire crews on their toes. It was still smoldering
in isolated locations as of October 1st.
Concerned with the fact that a single hunter could cause such
devastation, C.A.S.H. asked the US Forest Service spokesperson for the Rim
Fire Information Office, Mark Healey, what the official USFS position is on
hunters being allowed in national forests.
“National forests allow hunting in season, and the seasons are set by the
game and fisheries agencies in each state,” Healey explained.
“Although hunting is allowed in national forests, it is not allowed in
As legal campfires could be just as dangerous as illegal ones, we also
asked if it would not be more sensible to ban campfires altogether.
Healey protected their policy by saying that the experts who monitor the
risk of wildfires are confident of their ability to accurately determine the
prevalent conditions. “When there is a ban on campfires there is good
reason,” Healey noted. “They are not prohibited if conditions are
Considering the vast area affected by this, the third-largest fire in
California history, we wondered how investigators had been able to find the
source. Healey said that a great deal of scientific research has gone
into tracking fire sources, and US Forest Service agents and other
investigators are well trained.
Three major federal agencies were involved in the recent battle: the US
Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and US Parks Service, as well as
CalFire (California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection), and crews
from Mexico. They all had their work cut out for them.
The hunter’s identity is being kept from the public for now, but C.A.S.H.
knows that Aug. 17, the day the fire began, was the start of the archery
deer hunting season. The fire began in a remote area of Stanislaus National
Forest, and an official with the Groveland Ranger Station said campfires
were not permitted in that part of the forest on that date.
The U.S. Forest Service website notes that someone starting a forest fire
can be charged for the cost of fighting the fire, as well as being charged
with a misdemeanor, fined as much as $5,000 and imprisoned for up to six
months. This punishment hardly seems commensurate with the horrific
extent of damage done by the Rim Fire. As harmful as hunting itself
is, far more wild animals were killed and left homeless by this hunter’s
When we called the District Attorney’s office, we were given the official
response for media: “Still under investigation, so no comment,” said the
Tuolomne County DA’s representative, who did not wish to be named.
Mainstream media virtually always focus on the loss of man-made property
and occasional loss of human life in these large-scale fires. The
plight of wild animals – their loss of life and loss of habitat – goes
largely unreported. All species in the region were at risk, owing to
the speed of the fire. Older or infirm animals, youngsters,
slow-movers, and even healthy adults with families to shepherd, were caught
up in the inferno. We will never know the number of wild animals who
died, but the fact of their suffering is undeniable. And all
Given the apparent lack of media interest in our wild
neighbors, we appreciated the tone of an update put out by Central Sierra
Environmental Resource Center (CSERC), www.cserc.org, a
citizen-participation project based in Calaveras County, California. One
passage on their site was especially moving:
“CSERC staff is grieving for the incomprehensible number of animals that
had no ability to escape or to move mile after mile ahead of the fast-moving
flames. For those that somehow found refuge in pockets of lower-intensity
burn areas, the fire’s consumption of almost all food and habitat across
broad areas makes survival far more difficult.
“For the last two decades CSERC staff has cooperated with the Forest
Service and supported efforts to reforest and rehabilitate tens of thousands
of acres of the Stanislaus Forest that burned in three major previous fires.
Millions and millions of dollars of restoration and reforestation efforts
have now been devoured by the Rim Fire, and years of work have been
In the aftermath of any great tragedy, humans tend to ask questions.
Apart from the obvious Who is to blame? there are more useful questions to
pose. Could this have been avoided through a change in policy?
What can we do to prevent such a thing from happening again? C.A.S.H.
asks if anyone would consider what to us seems a sensible next step: a ban
on hunting and campfires in national forests.
Even persons who are not anti-hunting per sé might see the logic in this,
especially as hunting already endangers other citizens who wish to enjoy
wilderness and wildlife peacefully.
Then, too, since hunters do not, on the face of it, respect life, and
often drink while hunting, how can we expect them to be careful with
campfires? Might this horrible instance not cause a rethinking of
allowing hunting in our national forests? For the sake of our
ever-more-threatened wildlife, let us hope it does.
What We Can Do
The US Forest Service is the manager of our national public forests and
grasslands. Unfortunately, they are an agency of the US Department of
Agriculture, the government entity that arguably does more damage to
American wildlife than any other department, via their numerous programs of
wild bird eradication, killing of predator species, etc. This does not mean
that we who champion the cause of wildlife should give up on the idea of
banishing hunting from national land. We know that hunters are only a small
minority of the population. Why should they have the loudest voice?
CASH recommends that all who love peaceful wildlife-related activities
write and call their elected representatives, as well as the Chief of the
USFS and the Secretary of Agriculture, and demand a complete ban on hunting
on all national land, both forests and prairies. Make the point that nature
manages to properly balance the ecosystems, whereas hunting sometimes
results in enormous tragedies like the Rim Fire, and takes a terrible toll
on wildlife every day. Ending hunting on national land would be a
relatively simple (albeit contentious) major step towards a more humane
Contact info: Chief of the US
Forest Service Thomas Tidwell at 202-205-8439; and Secretary of Agriculture
Tom Vilsack at [email protected]
E.M. Fay is
Associate Editor of the C.A.S.H. Courier.
Go on to Additional Losses
Ascribed to the Yosemite Fire
Fall-Winter 2013 Table
C.A.S.H. Courier Archive