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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 wasted.

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 actively managed.

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 deficits.

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.

Original Article -
http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/opinion/article/0,1299,DRMN_38_1335798,00.html


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