I having been using Tim Egan’ s book, “The Big Burn,” about the fires of 1910 that changed fire policy in the United States in my public land policy class this semester. A key part of his book is about the early days of the U.S. Forest Service, its Chief Gifford Pinchot, and the forest rangers who, new to the job, tried heroically to fight those fires in Idaho and Montana. He writes about those people in such a way that they come alive.
The legacy those and other fires left that new agency is large and still can lie heavy on it and all of us. The early Forest Service also had its enemies. One of them, Sen. Heyburn of Idaho, tried to defund the new agency and have it abolished; it was that “ damn federal government” standing in the way of Heyburn and his cronies. Heyburn was also one of those Senators chosen before the passage of the 17th amendment, the one that now lets citizens elect their US senators.
This is not a historical footnote; there are those who would repeal that amendment giving us…what? More Senator Heyburns? Heyburn did not succeed, but Egan reminds us it was a battle. It is simply amazing, then, that a walk around or boat ride on Redfish Lake in Idaho reveals Mount Heyburn in the Sawtooth Mountain range, one of the Forest Service’ s most proud and important places. Shouldn’ t this mountain have a name more suited to someone who did something to protect the Sawtooths and at least dealt honorably with the agency that manages them? It is time to start the process to change the name of this peak.
John Freemuth is a professor of political science and public policy at Boise State University. This item originally appeared on High Country News’ The Range blog.