Canceling the burn

The Targhee-Caribou National Forest was correct to cancel its plan to burn up to 1.7 million acres.

Unfortunately, Mike Koshmrl’s April 21 article on this decision states that the U.S. Forest Service had proposed to use controlled fire ... to regenerate up to 1.7 million acres of the landscape, one that’s lacked natural wildfire, leading to thick understories, a dearth of aspen and decadent conifer stands (the writers’ wording).

As a retired wilderness guide/outfitter, co-founder and board member of various conservation organizations, and holder of a degree in conservation and wildlife ecology, such statements make me cringe. They reflect misconceptions that have been spread by the Forest Service, the timber industry and the media.

For example, the forest does not need intentional fire ignitions for regeneration. It regenerates well enough on its own. Also, there is no such thing as a “decadent” conifer stand. “Decadent” is a forest industry term that has long been discredited by forest ecologists. An old conifer stand with abundant snags and deadfall is more accurately called “old growth,” and these stands harbor great biodiversity, especially for numerous wildlife species that depend upon snags and deadfall.

Moreover, most conifer stands in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, including the expansive spruce-fir and lodgepole forests, did not evolve with frequent ground-clearing wildfire. Rather, their natural burn cycles are measured in multi-centuries, not decades. So it is perfectly natural for dense understories to develop in some habitats during the long natural intervals between burns. These forests evolved with infrequent large-scale severe and mixed severity burns. A few decades of marginally successful fire suppression hasn’t much affected these forests, which dominate most of the GYE high country.

Of course, exceptions are the rule in nature. Wildfire usually does enhances aspen regeneration. Ponderosa pine forests historically burned at frequent intervals, with fire clearing out underbrush while sparing most of the bigger trees. But there is very little ponderosa in the GYE.

In other words, fire ecology is complex, and the public discussion is rife with erroneous generalizations. It is simply incorrect to imply that dense understories are unnatural and that a large-scale burning (or logging) plan will cure the so-called “decadent timber problem.” There is no such problem. Please be careful about simply repeating agency/industry dogma that is not based upon good science.

Howie Wolke

Emigrant, Montana

Welcome home, soldier

The past few weeks have had me thinking about things I frequently consider putting in writing but never really get around to.

As I reflect on President Biden’s order to withdraw all U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan, my feelings are mixed. On the one hand, the time, talent and treasure, not to mention lives lost, bodies and minds broken, “collateral damage” resulting from that “conflict” (and others like it — Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, El Salvador, Nicaragua and on and on...) has had no lasting positive results and often just makes matters worse. On the other hand, I know that when those forces leave, that vacuum will be filled at a horrific cost to those who remain.

And the worst part? We will soon learn the name, rank, branch of service, hometown, parents and siblings, spouses and children of the last U.S. service man or woman to die in Afghanistan. Then we will knock the dust from our collective boots, load everyone on huge transport planes and just leave. No celebrations. No parades. And, judging from our history, no lessons learned.

Seems like the only thing that’s changed since Jan. 27, 1973 (the official end of the Vietnam “conflict”) is that this time the returning troops won’t be called “baby killers” or “murderers” or asked how many people they killed. Today’s men and women in uniform are frequently told “thank you for your service,” and deservedly so.

What those men and women probably don’t know is that, for veterans of my age, veterans of the first (but not last) war the U.S. lost, that was far from the standard greeting. The first time I ever heard anything like that from someone I didn’t know was in September 2014 (46 years after I left Vietnam) when I struck up a conversation with a gentleman wearing a Vietnam veteran hat.

After our conversation and as we were parting ways, he reached out, shook my hand and said “welcome home, brother.” Three simple words. Not big words. Not difficult words. And I just stood there in the middle of a parking lot in Moose, Wyoming, with tears running down my cheeks. Three simple words.

Now I say those words to every person I see wearing that hat.

Three simple words.

So please say them to the next person you see wearing one.

And to the one after that.

Trust me. We have earned the right to wear that hat.

By the way, the 58,318th and last name on the wall is that of 27-year-old Second Lieutenant Richard Van De Geer from Cleveland, Ohio, a helicopter pilot who died when his helicopter was shot down on May 15, 1975, during the war’s final combat action. He was attached to the 56th Special Operations Wing, U.S. Air Force, flying out of U-Tapao, Thailand. The partial remains of Lt. Van De Geer were buried at Arlington National Cemetery in 2013, along with those of 12 other servicemen who died with him in 1975. His burial consisted of one casket in a single grave with unidentified remains potentially representing all of the service members who were killed in the crash.

Lt. Van De Geer and the others were killed during the attempted rescue of 39 crewmen kidnapped by the Khmer Rouge from the American container ship SS Mayaguez off the coast of Cambodia.

Michael O’Brien

Louisville, Kentucky

Cheney has true grit

A patriotic American, Congresswoman Liz Cheney’s got true grit. And she deserves our steadfast support for speaking truth on behalf of our constitutionally enshrined freedoms and liberty.

A fundamental motivator of key American leaders throughout history, true grit combines courage and God’s strength to stand for what is right with grace and fortitude regardless of the obstacles. Cheney’s actions since Jan. 6, 2021 serve as a shining example for all American patriots — regardless of party.

Our nation — and democracy globally — faces increasingly coordinated aggression from authoritarian regimes in Russia and China (our seemingly ungrateful former allies), as well as other adversaries. Yet many Republicans appear willing to aid our enemies by deploying deceit to destabilize our nation internally — despite obvious foreign assistance and our enemies’ geopolitical gains. And many Democrats appear unwilling to modify policies that fuel Republican extremism.

As Cheney continues to demonstrate, the strength of America lives in the heart of every American and each of us has a continuing duty to step up — following her lead — to protect and defend our nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Freedom is not free, and now is our time to defend it.

While many Americans haven’t traveled to Russia and China, our remaining friends living under oppressive regimes there and elsewhere understand that nothing proved America’s continuing greatness more than our right and ability to democratically remove a president from office on Nov. 3, 2020.

Cheney is standing up to tyranny on behalf of us all.

I’m proud to stand with her.

Mosemarie Boyd

Fort Smith, Arkansas

Letters to the editor should be limited to 400 words, be signed and include a town of residence and a telephone number for verification. Letters are due by noon Monday. No thank yous or political endorsement letters. Guest Shot columns are limited to 800 words. Email

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