Tim Egan

Having been through the Gifford Pinchot National Forest many times, having swung a Pulaski doing trail maintenance work as a teen, I never considered their origins. Yet Timothy Egan relates how both men—one who led the U.S. Forest Service, the other, Ed Pulaski, a humble Idaho forester—defended public lands in The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt & The Fire That Saved America (Houghton Mifflin, $27). Egan, the Pulitzer-winning longtime Seattle correspondent for The New York Times, frames this short, well-told history through a 1910 blaze along the northern Idaho-Montana border, when TR was out of office and the Forest Service under siege from corrupt pols and industrialists. More than a forest fire, the largest of its kind in U.S. history, this was a battle between the conservationist movement—championed by Pinchot and Roosevelt—and reactionaries in Congress who were trying to defund the agency and its regulators. (Sound familiar?) There are local connections, too. Timber was rail-shipped from the region along the Milwaukee Road to Seattle via Snoqualmie Pass. Pinchot (1865-1946) lobbied successfully for the creation of what later became Mount Rainier National Park. And his nemesis was the Secretary of the Interior, Richard Ballinger, a former mayor of Seattle who became the lapdog of Weyerhaeuser and other timber barons. Firefighting practices have changed, but politics stays the same. BRIAN MILLER

Sun., Nov. 22, 3 p.m., 2009

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