Interpreting the New Mexico Fires. II. Hotshot Wake Up Questions Who’s Shaping the Narrative to What Ends

The author of the Hotshot Wake Up has some interesting observations and questions about the narrative of the Calf Canyon Fire and what groups might be using the narrative to what ends.

You can get a free 7 day trial of the Hotshot Wakeup.. some excerpts below.

  • Publications that have Government grant money and taxpayer money started to blame the environment for this fire and push a fear based narrative. This now just days before the Feds released their findings.
  • All of these widely spread articles based their stories off the fires in New Mexico. Both now known to be caused by Federal ignitions.


  • Many political figures in the Federal Government used these fires as a launching pad for new talking points for policy change. When in actuality their employer started

    the very same fires.

Ironic, hypocritical, coincidental, inadvertent, knowingly?

The other thing we saw come out of this was the new “wildfire danger tool” that was pushed by media and politicians that inaccurately showed where housing danger areas were for wildfire. Many mainstream outlets referenced this site when they talked about the homes lost on the Calf Canyon and expressed the need for Government policy change to protect homes. As of today 761 structures have been lost from these Federally set fires.

Again, I am a huge supporter of prescribed fire. I know that mistakes can happen and unintended outcomes can have horrible consequences. What I expect to see is what I’ve seen before. A few regional level and forest level people will get thrown under the bus while DC policy makers continue on ops normal.

It’s amazing that the money being asked for in these policy agendas is a fraction of what it would take to adequately pay our firefighters fairly. Where is the push for this?! Why is this not at the forefront of these news stories? Many in the industry make the argument that the loss of long term qualified people has led to more tragic prescribed burn losses. As we all know staffing issues have plagued the agencies for the last 2-3 years. We have discussed at length why this is.

Things to think about:

  • When did the Feds know the Calf Canyon was self inflicted?
  • Were there any Government PR people giving talking points on policy change in this time period?
  • Was the narrative orchestrated?
  • Why?

My hope is that this creates conversation around how our industry is increasingly being used as a political pawn by both sides. It’s inappropriate and the manipulation of public view is becoming evident. The increased push for International oversight is also gaining media coverage. All things that need to be considered when trying to sift through the noise.


16 thoughts on “Interpreting the New Mexico Fires. II. Hotshot Wake Up Questions Who’s Shaping the Narrative to What Ends”

  1. Not sure if I read the whole article, or if part of it was paywalled? Wasn’t clear at the end of the link if I read it all but it was lacking in substance anyways, so doesn’t matter.

    In general it was a very lazy attempt at creating a right wing conspiracy theory rather than a basic understanding of the sociology of the aftermath of yet another catastrophic wildfire, which makes everyone and their mother freak out and demand answers and solutions that further their belief system/personal agenda/what makes sense to them as a solution.

    As the author, AKA: Hotshot Wake up says about their personal agenda: “I will be the first person to say that I believe using fire as a tool to manage forest ecosystems is necessary.”

    And perhaps you could say the same thing about people’s right to own guns, which is a violent tool much like a hammer, much like controlled burns…

    But when we start worshipping hammers, or in this week’s case guns and we’ve tripled to amount of guns owned in the US in less than two decades by profiting off of fearful gun owners by telling them there’s a conspiracy that we’re goin take their guns away, is it any wonder that we have mass murdering of our children in public schools constantly even though all the other nations of the world never have had this problem anywhere near the way we have it?

    Similarly, the way so many in forestry have turned the tool of controlled burns into some kind of tool of worship that’s going to solve all our problems because indigenous people once used it at a much smaller scale: is it any wonder that too much carbon in the atmosphere from centuries of massive combustion at every level of society by almost 8 billion humans might shorten the seasonal window of opportunity for safely doing controlled burns because there’s way more days a year that aren’t safe for burning?

    As for my agenda and my violent tools, just day before yesterday I was pushing my wheelbarrow-sized chipper down a narrow forest trail in Western Washington that I made to thin a forest with branch pruning not tree killing and it confounds me that slash burning is still acceptable at this late stage in climate change debate when our topsoils are desperate for more mulch that we keep burning into the sky.

    That doesn’t mean my prefered tools of climb gear, pole pruners, handsaw and small woodchipper for a healthy forest are tools that I want everyone to worship. But I certainly would like foresters to at least consider it as a more efficient alternative moving forward when they’ll have way less days available for slash burning each year and we already have way more acres of land burning each year, especially in California.

    Of course Hot Shop Wakeup is so entrenched in defending the status quo and so closed off to to other options that public discussion about a horrific mistake that has led to 314K acres burning out of control and still not even 1/2 way contained is no longer just people sharing their thoughts about solutions, but a vast conspiracy for “manipulation of public view is becoming evident,” which is a very insolent and petty response to a very serious situation that requires far greater maturity, inquisitiveness and open-mindedness than the author is capable of.

    • Deane: Why do you think that “indigenous people once used [prescribed fire] at a much smaller scale?” My research, and that of many others, indicate that American Indians actually used broadcast burning at a far greater scale than we do today. Also, constant firewood gathering, and well-developed riparian and ridgeline trails (aka “firebreaks”). I don’t know about the rest of the US, exactly, but I’m pretty sure there are more trees spread over more acres in the Pacific Northwest than at any other time in history. I suggest Stephen Pyne and Doug MacCleery for general background on this.

      Also, why the name-calling and conspiracy claims? They really diminish your assertions and clearly demonstrate your biases. Finally — the idea of managing our forests with climbing gear and pruning sheers “as a more efficient alternative” to fire is nuts. My opinion, based on experience.

      • Are you really that delusional Bob? And where do you weigh in on the debate of the Anthrpocene vs. Pyrocene and what’s the more accurate name of this era in Earth’s history.

        We literally have had multiple centuries of an industrial revolution that has been built on a foundation of toxic air pollution and you’re going to suggest that near 8 billion people on this planet somehow magically haven’t done any more significant combustion than US indigenous people doing cultivation for thousands of years prior to that?

        As for you thinking my canopy pruning methods are “nuts” how do you think the first humans to clearcut the biggest trees in the world in the PNW were first treated? Do you really think with only axes and handsaw and oxen anyone thought they could so quickly wipe out the entire landscape where all the major PNW cities currently exist?

        You clearly don’t know how the development of tools and techniques over time can make time consuming efforts turn into very quick and efficient efforts.

        • Sorry, Deane: As a mind reader, “scientist,” and historian, you need much work. Thanks for the lecture, though, on the history and use of hand tools. I’ll probably disengage from any future discussions with you and retreat to my delusions instead, which are mostly based on facts and experience.

          • Facts and experience is what people who rode horses say about the automobile when it arrived on the scene. Same thing fossil fuel car makers said about about the facts and experience that made it clear that electric vehicles will never be popular, but just last week 52%, as in more than 1/2 surveyed said their next car will be electric. Or how about the the doctors that used facts and experience to argue that blood letting was the best way to cure a patient from disease?

            Truth is the institutions of today are usually in the way of institutions of the tomorrow due to close-minded people that don’t want to accept their days of being on the cutting edge of advancements are behind them and all they have are their facts and experience rather than us younger folks who are hungry and driven to innovate new solutions and more efficient ways for humans to live that are truly sustainable and not based on your outdated fake sustainability dogma the timber crazies always parrot despite the fact of average diameter of sawlogs going down every decade for the past half century.

            There’s an incredible botanical diversity on this planet that we have not cultivated in our forest ecosystems because the way forests have been managed for tree harvesting with almost zero consideration for all the resources that depend on keeping forests intact is in the way of those many new industries.

  2. Current fire ecology science recommends the need for judiciously applied “controlled” fires. There is a huge backlog of areas in need of fire returned to the landscape, mostly due to the relatively recent (European) cultural insistence on complete fire suppression. However, an enormous deficit of fire should not precipitate hasty and reckless application of prescribed fire in an effort to make up for lost time; trying to catch-up too quickly. Each case is unique and requires intensive preparation, expert oversight, and the commitment of sufficient control resources in place in case plans go awry, which will always be a possibility (i.e., Black Swan events). Sadly, there is currently an acute shortage of qualified and experienced burn bosses; there is a need for more multidisciplinary training and funding for prescribed fire specialists. Additionally, all plans, no matter how rigorous and time-consuming to prepare, should always be considered strictly tentative, and there should be no hesitancy to abort a pre-planned burn at the last minute to ensure safety. I think that sometimes the permitting process is so rigorous and time-consuming that once a burn has finally been approved there’s a rigid reluctance to forgo implementation and to proceed with a burn anyway, even when conditions may no longer be within the originally anticipated parameters. This is a dynamic decision-making scenario, and wise oversight is becoming more and more critical as climate change increases periods of low-humidity, high temperature, and more unpredictable local wind speed fluctuations, effectively reducing safe burn window periods and magnifying the consequences of any mistake. In sum, although there may indeed be a significant need for more mechanical thinning followed by prescribed fire, we need to be much more cautious and slow the hell down to ensure that we can operate within acceptable margins of safety. Otherwise, we’ll be seeing many more Cerro Grande and Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak-scale fires.

    • Micheal, 1 out of every 8 acres in the state of California has burned in the past decade and the amount of land burned annually because of climate change continues to accelerate nearly every year and for how long are you going to claim that there’s a “huge backlog of areas in need of fire?”

      Have you ever thought of running the numbers and figuring out how many acres will have not experienced fire by 2030 if this acceleration of acres burned continues? Of course you haven’t… Same old egotistical delusional claims the industry always spits out.

      If it’s not a controlled burn they created themselves then it never happened and the hundreds of thousands of acres and more and more often the millions of acres that burn in North America every year somehow magically don’t ever count as reducing the backlog of areas that need fire to return.

      Your line of argumentation is the same kind of delusional as the industry claiming they’re reducing naturally occurring and ecologically necessary mortality rates in forests with agressive thinning because if the trees get cut down by a chainsaw they don’t get counted in the studies as mortality, even though that mortality is worse than a naturally dead tree in a forest because it robs the ecosystem of all the benefits that deadwood provides to the soil and all the other lifeforms that depend on it for decades to come.

      So sick of study after study pretending like chainsaws that cut down trees don’t count in the measurements of stand mortality thinning “experiments” because of your delusional magical thinking!

  3. Wow, what a bunch of far right wing conspiracy theories, straw man arguments, and non sequiturs wrapped together in one blog post. I’d think we could do better on this blog, Sharon.

    • Yes! Exactly… Couldn’t of said it better myself… This blog used to be way more focused on scientific facts and valid research and sometimes even a tin y bit of open-mindedness but as as the years go by more and more it looks like an empty shell of itself that’s more interested in dishonest right wing propaganda rather than the advancement of forest science. You can do better than this Sharron!

      • Deane, I suppose you are welcome to go start your own blog.
        Since you have become regularly active on this one, I have yet to ever really see good faith arguments from you, simply name calling, and a narrow view of all topics (pertinent and not pertinent to forest management and ecology). Many may not agree with the topic and ideas within this post, but that is the point – bring them to light, have good faith arguments over them, find the rights and wrongs, the holes and fallacies, and make progress. You’ve clearly already 1000% decided your young mind on….everything. That’s why many don’t want to engage with you, particularly due to your attitude. It is not conducive to progress.
        But again, feel free to go start your own blog.

  4. Picuris Pueblo has been battling with irrigators in the Mora Valley for water since 1820 when the first diversion from the Rio Pueblo de Taos, a tributary of the Rio Grande, became an acequia into the Mora, a tributary of the Canadian and Arkansas Rivers. In 2018, the 30,000 acre grass and ponderosa pine-driven Ute Park Fire burned near Cimarron and the Buzzard Fire on the Gila National Forest cleared some 24,000 acres. The Black Fire is clearing more overgrowth today.New Mexico has been home to a much larger aspen community in the fairly recent past. Morels fruit after fires in mixed pine/aspen habitat to entice animals to deposit organic material. Bison, elk and deer will crawl on their knees and loll their long tongues for morels fruiting under dead-fallen pine trees. According to eyewitness reports the beaver are still working in upper Gallinas Canyon and green shoots are already coming up out of the ashes despite the ferocity of the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak wildfire complex.Before the European invasion Puebloans in northern New Mexico hunted bison on the high plains along the east slopes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and today Picuris is one of 76 tribal entities represented on the Rapid City, South Dakota-based Intertribal Buffalo Council (ITBC). Now, wildland fire is threatening the Pueblo.

    Picuris Pueblo welcomed U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich for a tour last Friday (May 13) of the tribe’s buffalo program, which Picuris is working to expand by adding to its current herd of 50 bison in order to produce more products, as well as add more genetic diversity to its stock. “We put in an application through the ITBC for surplus bison,” Danny Sam told Heinrich, who asked if the surplus included animals removed from Yellowstone National Park, which in 2019 began transferring surplus bison to Native American tribes. The House passed the Indian Buffalo Management Act in December, while an identical bill introduced in the Senate last October by Heinrich and U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds is awaiting further consideration by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. [Bringing the bison back to Picuris Pueblo]

    Pojoaque Pueblo was the first tribal entity to raise bison on federal land and in cooperation with New Mexico Highlands University grazes a herd on the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge north of Las Vegas.

    Brian Miller, a wildlife biologist and former executive director at Wind River Ranch, was the first to work with the InterTribal Buffalo Council to establish a bison conservation herd at the ranch. Wind River became the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge in 2012 — the same year the partnership was formalized. [Highlands Part of Unique Bison Conservation Partnership]

    The Sandia Pueblo has been managing a bison herd since 2002, some with pure genetic stock from Wind Cave National Park in occupied South Dakota.Only 3 percent of the Earth’s land surface remains untouched by human development and a sixth mass extinction is underway. Urban sprawl, accelerated global warming and drought are reducing productivity on the remaining grasslands of the Great Plains, according Dr. Jeff Martin. He’s the Director of Research at the Center of Excellence for Bison Studies at South Dakota State University. “The key is maintaining a high level of diversity and innovation to enhance sustainable solutions to climate change impacts. The Center of Excellence for Bison Studies aims to continue to support diverse, innovative, and precision research and practices for all bison stewards,” he writes.There are no mysteries here. Every incident like the Calf Canyon and Hermits Peak Fire is a teaching moment. These are episodes where humans are humbled by climate disruptions created by our own failures. People who build in the wildland-urban interface do so at their own risk and not because they expect the feds to bail them out but because insurance companies won’t cover fire-prone properties. Not talking about fuel treatments during a wildfire is akin to not talking about background checks during a mass shootingThe solutions are simple. We must talk more about how stakeholders and policy makers interact with voters instead of reacting to Republican cattle and timber industry propaganda. We’ll adapt or die.Clear the second growth ponderosa pine, restrict non-native cattle, conduct fuel treatments, restore aspen and other native hardwoods, build wildlife corridors, empower tribal nations like the Picuris Pueblo and Confederated Salish and Kootenay Tribes in Montana then approximate Pleistocene rewilding with bison and cervids.

  5. Amazing how all it takes is one view outside the mainstream (fire is caused by climate change solely, no solution short of decarbonization is worth considering) and the comments become a witch hunt for the “industry shills.” Some of y’all need to work through your timber wars PTSD and stop the personal attacks.

    I think we need more contrarian perspectives like this. Does anyone really believe the Forest Service status quo was successful in this situation? Why not listen to some other takes on what has been a big black eye for the agency?

  6. I understand that at least a portion of the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fires were started by smoldering slash piles that had been burned earlier in the season and when they were covered by snow it was assumed that they had been extinguished. But, apparently, that was a hasty conclusion; the embers eventually reignited unburned slash after the snow melted away. These slash burns should have been absolutely verified to be completely out before they were abandoned. It is my understanding that monitoring aircraft later identified the hot spots from the air, but the locations were either too inaccessible to be rapidly attended to, or were judged to be only minor heat signatures, and thus were disregarded, only to become the major conflagarations that they later became. I wonder if they should have devoted more attention to follow-up monitoring, maybe even devoting dedicated resources to the burn sites to ensure that residual embers no longer pose a threat.

    Also, I think it’s ironic that although the assigned burn bosses will now be able to say that they have gained invaluable experience, having learned things the hard way, they’ll most likely not be entrusted with another burn project in their careers. However, others will hopefully benefit from their impactful mistakes.

  7. In regards to the political aspects of the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fires, just imagine what level of acerbic criticism would have been levied on those responsible had the fires been caused by indigenous tribal burning, or by a local landowner burn cooperative; there would have been even more scathing condemnation and outcry, that’s for sure. At least the USFS has more (taxpayer) money to meet costly liability obligations. In the future, hopefully the USFS will do more thorough risk management and cost-benefit assessments before they engage in such potentially destructive endeavors. Now, it is obvious that the USFS will be more risk-averse, and that’s why they have announced a temporary moratorium on prescribed burning. But, given the rapid advancements in AI fire modelling and remote surveillance networks, these types of risky activities should be safer and more expertly managed, although there is no substitute for boots-on-the-ground ground-truthing and intuitive local involvement and input.


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