I recently read a post on another pagan blog, No Unsacred Place (part of the Pagan Newswire Collective we told you about a few months ago). The author expressed concern over the role of pagans (or lack thereof) as leaders in environmental conservation and / or stewardship.* She also bemoaned that not all pagans consider environmental issues in their practices and purchases. This got me thinking about my contribution as a pagan environmentalist. I recycle at home and at work. I conserve energy at home and at work. I drive a fuel efficient car. I try to conserve water at home and at work.**
I also pay attention to local conservation efforts and honor local restrictions. Of immediate and pressing concern, 185 counties (out of 254) in my state have implemented burn bans, including my county. If you haven’t heard, wildfires are blazing all over Texas (see dotted map). And over 60% of my state is at risk for wildfires (see color map). [Note: I think these links are dynamic, so I’m including edited images, too.] If you ask The Oracle (Google) for more information on “Texas wildfires,” you will get many accounts of the drama spreading across my beautiful state.
The Texas Forest Service (TFS) reports (as of today) they have responded to 78 fires burning 385,098 acres in the last seven days. Thus far this calendar year, TFS has responded to 694 fires totaling 724,882 acres (and fire departments have responded to 4,660 fires totaling 316,205 acres) [from email exchange with Texas State Lone Star Incident Management Team]. This is a 370% increase over the number of fires TFS responded to this time last year (read more in the Texas Tribune). WTH?!
What is going on in the Great State of Texas?!
According to TFS, the most common cause of wildfires is humans (i.e., careless debris burning, unattended campfires, dumping hot charcoal or hot ashes). However, the recent wildfires apparently started from a combination of dry conditions (because of our drought) and rapid winds.***
Fires have always played a vital role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Fires recycle nutrients, reduce the amount of accumulated fire fuels on the forest floor and, thus, reduce the impact of disease and insects and maintain open meadows. The first national policy on fire management was established in the early 1900’s and focused solely on fire prevention / protection. It was shaped by tragedy and by commerce (an extreme fire season in 1910 and the emergence of timber as a national product). This policy remained intact until the early 1970’s when the Forest Service adopted a policy of prescribed burning in an attempt to reintroduce fire as a land management tool. Kudos to the National Forest Service for making that change! (WAMIS 2006, Natural Hazards Observer 2005)
At the same time, over 60 years of fire suppression has deprived forests of their natural fire cycle allowing fuels to accumulate in many forests (those fuels being dried flora and fauna). Couple this with expanding residential areas (houses are fire fuel) and the risk of wildfires increases dramatically. (WAMIS 2006, Natural Hazards Observer 2005)
I feel like my state has done a good job with land management (especially given recent budget constraints). Texas practices controlled burns and works with a multitude of local partners to ensure safety. It appears the wildfires rampaging Texas right now are the result of years of undergrowth, drought conditions and high winds. This is probably true for wildfires everywhere in the U.S. for the last 50 or more years.
My heart goes out to all the firefighters and families affected.
I was really hoping to light a fire for Beltane this year, as they do in Walpurgis Night. But, alas, I will not. Instead, this pagan will burn with hope for a rainy spring.
What else can the Pagan Princesses do to be good conservationists? And you…do you monitor local restrictions in your area (i.e., water, fire, electricity)?
* Environmental stewardship is a hot button for some pagans and some environmentalists. Human superiority is inherent in the concept of stewardship because it places man as caretaker for nature rather than as part of nature. Thus making “stewardship” an anthropocentric view of conservation (as opposed to biocentric).
** I am less successful at this when I have to wash my hair!
*** Lightening is also a usual suspect as a natural cause for wildfires, but I couldn’t find any reports that indict Thor for this outbreak (*wink*).
Citation: No Author (2006). World AgroMeterological Information Service.
Citation: No Author (2005). Wildfire Management in the U.S. Forest Service: A Brief History, Natural Hazards Observer 29(6).