August 2015

Let's conserve the forests!

By Dexter Gill

There is a lot of talk these days about conserving and protecting forests and public lands. Brown’s Canyon was recently declared a national monument, to protect it and conserve it. That action just added 21,586 acres of public lands to the millions of acres that have been removed from conservation management and public use.

Wait a minute, what did I just say? Putting it in clear English language, the public have been duped by the clever use of words that portray differing and changing meanings. When they say “conserve” the forest and land, what do you think of ? When they say we need to “protect” the forest and lands, what do you think is going to happen? If you are thinking Brown’s Canyon or any and all of the wilderness areas and national monuments are going to stay just as they are now, and they will be protected from fires, insects and diseases, erosion, floods, landslides and earthquakes, then you are going to be very disappointed. They are all going to change daily and some very disastrously. A declaration by Congress or the President is just words on a piece of paper, totally meaningless to the natural environment of weather, trees, grass and wildlife. Maybe we should examine just what it is we are claiming to do.

What is “conserve,” anyway? Webster says, “to use something carefully in order to prevent loss or waste.” That is an action of using to prevent loss or waste. How about “conservation”? Again, Webster says, “the careful use of natural resources (such as trees, oil, etc.) to prevent them from being lost or wasted.” This is again an action of use to prevent loss or waste! In the ’50s and ’60s, resource conservation was stated as management for “the greatest good for the greatest number.. Seems that has changed recently to “the greatest personal benefit for the least number.”

OK, now, what about “protect” the lands and forests? Webster says, “To keep (someone or something) from being harmed, lost, etc.” This again requires an action to prevent loss.

Do you conserve and protect your lawn? How do you do that? After tilling the soil, and planting or sodding, most likely you water it, kill the weeds, fertilize it, cut the grass many times in the summer and remove the cut grass clippings. You play games on it and lounge on it while barbecuing and just enjoy the beauty. What if you do not mow the grass or remove the weeds or water it or walk on it? It will soon die out and nature will reclaim it to the scraggly scattered sagebrush and tumbleweed that was there before your house was built, disturbing the natural environment. Which is the greatest benefit for all? Your house and lawn, or the scraggly sagebrush and weed patch? Well, maybe your neighbor might prefer the weed patch to be there?

Conservation and protection requires physical use and action! In our local forest we love our aspen trees, especially in the fall when they turn color. Special train rides are scheduled for the “Color Runs” and we all drive the scenic loop up to Silverton and back. We want to “conserve” them, right? So how do we do that? Make more roadless areas and expand the wilderness to protect them? Wrong! In nature, aspens are a short-lived tree whose role is to provide nurse crop growth of cover following a wildfire, to protect the soil and provide shade for spruce, fir and pine trees to get established. Aspen clones vary in age but 20- 80 years catches most of them. They begin dying out from insects, diseases and old age (just like most of us). To “conserve” or maintain them requires rampant wildfires or for man to emulate fire conditions by harvesting the tree clones in a small clearcut method, thus utilizing and not wasting (remember the definition) the resource. The result is regrowth of a diversity of grasses, forbs, and new root sprouts of aspens to start the cycle anew.

Each of the vegetation types of pine, spruce/fir, piñon/juniper all need management and use techniques tailored for each differing type, soil, slope, etc.. The idea that roads, trails, grazing, logging, and mining must be curtailed and eliminated is more destructive to the future health of the forests and the state and county’s economic welfare than the wildfires that will come as a result of that thinking.

When politicians and others tell you they are conserving and protecting forests and public lands by setting them aside from active management and use by calling them a national monument, or roadless area, special management area, or wilderness area, they are simply blowing smoke in your ears, very expensive smoke! True conservation use is necessary to the future health of the resources and the economic health of local counties. Politics at the federal level is what has caused the decline of the forests’ health, public access and use. Let’s get the politics out and conserve the forests instead of managing and controlling the people.

Dexter Gill is a retired forest manager who worked for private industry, three Western state forestry agencies, and the Navajo Nation forestry department. He writes from Lewis, Colo.