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34947RE: Re: Small fires in the wilderness

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  • gkahn21
    Sep 9 2:50 PM

      I don't think you can frame this conversation in the context of small campfires. You can either allow campfires or ban them. A regulation to allow only 'small' campfires would be impossible to enforce as everyone's definition of 'small' would vary widely. In the larger sense, while what 'you' may do is very low impact, you are not the only one out there. In other words, you can’t only include the lowest impact users, you have to include high impacts users as well.

      Second, while fire is a natural process in wilderness, campfires are not. Campfires are localized typically in a small oval made up of rocks with many repeated fires in them. This is far different than natural fires. Some of the impacts of campfires are: "Fire site proliferation; overbuilt fire sites and associated seating arrangements; fuel wood depletion; sterilized soils; charred rocks and tree roots; ash and charcoal buildup; semimelted plastic, glass and metal trash; chemical contamination of soils; unburned food, which attracts wildlife; tree damage and felling; and vegetation trampling associated with firewood collection" Source: Reid, S. E., & Marion, J. L. (2005). A comparison of campfire impacts and policies in seven protected areas. Environmental Management, 36(1), 48-58. (with the quoted text referencing many other papers)

      As for a discussion as to should they be allowed, I would concentrate on necessity and impacts. Since the advent of portable gas stoves in the 1960’s, the vast majority of backpackers now do not use a campfire for cooking their food and mainly have campfires for ambiance and experiential purposes. Obviously the desire to have campfires is still strong, but for different reasons than in the past. As for impacts, campfires have many direct and indirect impacts, as noted above.

      People love having fires in the backcountry but they create many impacts. Obviously we allow activities in wilderness that create impacts, like backpacking on the JMT that we love so we can’t just ban everything that isn’t necessary, but that has to be balanced out by the impacts they create.

      --- In johnmuirtrail@yahoogroups.com, <johnmuirtrail@yahoogroups.com> wrote:

      Hi Larry,
      Just curious - are you limiting the question to just the JMT or wilderness in general? I ask because I feel there could be a difference in population visiting, available resources, services, etc. and some might really be off the grid or near a high-traveled trail.
      I am one that prefers to take a stove whenever possible and I usually do not build a campfire of any size. I’m not opposed to them, I just like stoves. I’ve certainly have had campfires and love them for the warmth, genuine good feelings felt, cooking, camaraderie at the end of a day, etc. Admittedly, I’ve not had one on the JMT/Yosemite area. If we exclude areas where laws prohibit them and natural environments where they are dangerous or resources scarce, then I think they are a valid and nice option for some.
      I too, except for the bonfire in the desert, am like you in that if I build a campfire, I keep them small and use small diameter sticks when I can. I’ve been to areas however, where the available downed wood has been collected and the only fuel available (other than grasses) are the remnants of barkless, branchless, tree trunks. I wouldn’t want to start a fire in those (whole) for fear that I might miss getting it completely out and leave a smoldering ember somewhere in the log. 
      As you say, fire is a natural healthy process in the wilderness, but in the case of these small (Indian) campfires, I think they really do not have any impact in the overall health of the wilderness.
      Sent: Sunday, September 08, 2013 5:48 PM
      Subject: [John Muir Trail] Small fires in the wilderness

      I realize fires of any kind are forbidden this year due to fire danger but I have heard that many purists believe fires should be restricted all of the time. If anyone has an opinion on this, I'd be interested in hearing why? (or why not?)
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