Managed forests are healthier forests
Rocky Mountain News Editorial
August 20, 2002
We don't believe in the "Que Sera, Sera" theory of
forest management. Whether a forest is public or
private, it seems obvious to us that careful human
intervention is often needed if it is to thrive.
But many of the more sentimental forest lovers seem to
be fatalists. Whatever nature does to it is just fine,
they argue. Consider the Wilderness Society's solution
to the 1997 blowdown in the Routt National Forest,
which the society recently termed one of the "15 most
endangered" places in America.
"Leave it alone," the society wrote on its Web site.
"Sometimes mankind just doesn't need to meddle." It
claimed many species will "thrive" because of the
blowdown and said a proposed timber sale would be bad
for wildlife, bad for residents "and will cost the
American taxpayer millions of dollars."
There was one species that thrived, all right: the
spruce bark beetle. It inevitably infested the
hundreds of thousands of downed trees and then moved
on to destroy standing trees nearby.
The peculiar blowdown in the Routt National Forest was
part of the same storm system that buried Denver under
two feet of snow in late October 1997. The blowdown
covered some 13,000 acres, 8,000 of which were in a
designated wilderness area.
The Forest Service knew better than even to try
dealing with the logs in wilderness. It had a hard
enough time getting permission to sell off the timber
in the 5,000 acres outside. Eventually it did manage
to sell some timber from 2,800 of the acres. Most of
the trees had to be carried out by helicopter, a very
expensive way to go logging.
Even so, the Forest Service made a little money on the
sale, and that's good. We hate to see resources
But of course, most of the fallen timber was wasted.
The fires north of Steamboat Springs have burned a
three-mile swath all the way through the wilderness
area, through timber that once might have had some
market value. Because the trees are dead, the fire
burns that much hotter and is harder to stop.
The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management
are seeking authority to thin out the forests in order
to reduce the fire risk. They maintain that 175
million acres are at high risk of catastrophic fires
because the woods are so much denser than they were a
century ago. They're denser because they have not been
Well-managed forests experience less severe fires and
are less susceptible to devastating problems like the
spruce bark beetle.
What's more, the thinning process can make some money
for the forests. Commercial interests will bid on the
product. That's important to the Forest Service, which
will face budget cuts as the nation returns to high
Yet getting permission for more active management will
not be easy. Environmental groups, which have a huge
influence in Washington, resist human intervention in
the natural world. Now it's true that the national
forests can be exploited by commercial interests who,
having no equity stake in the land, just want to take
what they can and run. But we believe the managers of
today's forests need not be controlled by these
interests. Publicly owned forests can be more scenic,
more productive and less susceptible to disastrous
fires if actively managed.
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