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Scorched Earth: How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America

Overview

In 1988, forest fires raged in Yellowstone National Park, destroying more than a million acres. As the nation watched the land around Old Faithful burn, a longstanding conflict over fire management reached a fever pitch. Should the U.S. Park and Forest Services suppress fires immediately or allow some to run their natural course? When should firefighters be sent to battle the flames and at what cost?

In Scorched Earth, Barker, an environmental reporter who was on the ground and ...

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Scorched Earth: How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America

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Overview

In 1988, forest fires raged in Yellowstone National Park, destroying more than a million acres. As the nation watched the land around Old Faithful burn, a longstanding conflict over fire management reached a fever pitch. Should the U.S. Park and Forest Services suppress fires immediately or allow some to run their natural course? When should firefighters be sent to battle the flames and at what cost?

In Scorched Earth, Barker, an environmental reporter who was on the ground and in the smoke during the 1988 fires, shows us that many of today's arguments over fire and the nature of public land began to take shape soon after the Civil War. As Barker explains, how the government responded to early fires in Yellowstone and to private investors in the region led ultimately to the protection of 600 million acres of public lands in the United States. Barker uses his considerable narrative talents to bring to life a fascinating, but often neglected, piece of American history. Scorched Earth lays a new foundation for examining current fire and environmental policies in America and the world.

Our story begins when the West was yet to be won, with a colorful cast of characters: a civil war general and his soldiers, America's first investment banker, railroad men, naturalists, and fire-fighters-all of whom left their mark on Yellowstone. As the truth behind the creation of America's first national park is revealed, we discover the remarkable role the U.S. Army played in protecting Yellowstone and shaping public lands in the West. And we see the developing efforts of conservation's great figures as they struggled to preserve our heritage. With vivid descriptions of the famous fires that have raged in Yellowstone, the heroes who have tried to protect it, and the strategies that evolved as a result, Barker draws us into the very heart of a debate over our attempts to control nature and people.

This entertaining and timely book challenges the traditional views both of those who arrogantly seek full control of nature and those who naively believe we can leave it unaltered. And it demonstrates how much of our broader environmental history was shaped in the lands of Yellowstone.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
"Scorched Earth is part policy treatise, part history, and part adventure story."
High Country News
"Scorched Earth will likely be recognized as a seminal work in the West's fire history — poignant historical analysis, told with a storyteller's flair."
Natural Areas Journal - Gerry Wright
 “A lively and revealing narrative of the scoundrels, idealists, vainglorious generals and solid pioneers who parleyed a sulfurous, geyser-punctuated paradise into a world-class national park system.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb and John James Au - Richard Rhodes
“A lively and revealing narrative of the scoundrels, idealists, vainglorious generals and solid pioneers who parleyed a sulfurous, geyser-punctuated paradise into a world-class national park system.”
Natural Areas Journal

"This is a good book and a good read for those interested in the history of wildfire, resource preservation, and fire fighting efforts of the West."
Chair of the Board and Faculty Director of the Center of the American West - Patricia Nelson Limerick

"Rocky Barker's Scorched Earth presents Westerners with a much-needed opportunity to consider, with both depth and breadth, the big picture of wildlands fire in the region. Fair, thorough, clearheaded, and wonderfully attentive to the origins of our current practices and problems, Barker provides us with a prime demonstration of the value that journalists with integrity and spirit provide to their society."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781597261531
  • Publisher: Island Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2007
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Rocky Barker is the author of three books, including Saving All the Parts (Island Press, 1993). The environmental writer for the Idaho Statesman in Boise, Barker has seen his columns syndicated in newspapers across the nation. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him with its National Conservation Achievement Award in 1999.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: September 7, 1988 1
Chapter 1 The General 11
Chapter 2 Jay Cooke, Nathaniel Langford, and the Northern Pacific 27
Chapter 3 The Creation Myth 35
Chapter 4 Yellowstone's Preservation Imperiled 43
Chapter 5 The Cavalry Rides to Preservation's Rescue 57
Chapter 6 The Gospel of Fire 73
Chapter 7 Fire and Rain 89
Chapter 8 The Big Blowup 101
Chapter 9 The End of the Trail 113
Chapter 10 Green Fire 129
Chapter 11 The Face of Conservation 147
Chapter 12 The Natural Revolution 159
Chapter 13 Greater Yellowstone Rediscovered 175
Chapter 14 Calm before the Storm 185
Chapter 15 The Fires of Summer 193
Chapter 16 Burn, Baby, Burn 203
Chapter 17 Moment of Truth 213
Chapter 18 From Old Faithful to Los Alamos 225
Epilogue 239
Notes 249
Acknowledgments 263
Index 266
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