August 2016

Is there a doctor in the forest?

By Dexter Gill

How are trees like salt? Salt is good and in fact is a necessity in sustaining our bodies in a healthy condition besides making many foods more tasty. Having the right amount of sodium in our bodies keeps all the different parts operating in balance. It preserves our food and can get rid of pests. Ever sprinkle a little salt on the pesty slug bug? If you didn’t do that as a kid you led a sheltered life with no fun experiences.

However, if we take in too much salt, that is bad for our bodies. Soon we have kidney, liver and heart problems among other associated issues, and may soon be checking into prices of caskets. Salt is good, but too much can be very bad!

Like salt in our bodies, trees are good and a necessity in a healthy forest, after all trees are what makes a forest. A healthy forest of trees provides shelter for the soil, all kinds of wildlife (including man) and protection of the watershed to sustain the rivers and lakes. The various trees provide food and medicine for man and beast.

In a natural environment, the trees tend to keep increasing in numbers, crowding and shading out the smaller shrubs and grasses. Soon you have very little grass and shrubs to feed the wildlife. The newer trees are small and stunted, not even good for bird nests, and certainly not suitable for wood shelter for man. The meadows have waned and the water for the streams has greatly reduced. The numbers and variety of wildlife have gone down due to the unhealthy conditions.

What has happened? Too many trees! As the forest ages, the good tree in nature increases in numbers, and it becomes a factor in the destruction of its own environment with, insects, disease and fire. It cannot think or do anything about it. This is nature’s way. Calling it a wilderness, or roadless area, or national monument or park will not change the processes of nature and protect it. It will die out in either small or large units. Recently we have been seeing this process take place in very large sections in all Western states. Very slowly, the forest will be regenerated to start the process all over again. This is the socalled “balance of nature,” the swing from high populations of trees and wildlife down to very low populations of both like a seesaw, there is no sustained balance.

The obvious question is, can’t we do anything to prevent the wide damaging swings in forest condition? After all, man was created with the special ability to think, reason and act in ways that could benefit the forest, wildlife, waters, and other men. Recently, the district manager for the state wildlife department said that the local elk herd had been going down in numbers, and not recovering. It just could be that the forage and habitat the elk depend upon has been going down as well, due to, you guessed it, too many trees. Back in the late ’70s, the feds decided to no longer actively manage the trees in our forest, thus returning it to more of the natural system of decline, which we see happening with the insect outbreaks and un-natural large very hot fires.

Do you want to see the elk herd come back healthy? Do you want to see a stable flow of water in the river for agriculture as well as more recreation? Do you want to see our local economy grow where people can have jobs that enable them to recreate even a little? Well, guess what, we can have it all! We just need to emulate nature by actively doctoring/ managing the forest resources and using the excess trees to produce jobs and economic wealth while improving the watershed, elk and all wildlife habitat.

The local Forest Service is finally proposing to do some planned doctoring/ management in a few of the dying spruce and aspen areas to improve the health of the forest, water and wildlife. I’m very encouraged to see this finally taking place. It will be interesting to see how the eco-terrorist groups deal with this as they routinely sue (at tax payers and forest health expense), to stop economic and healthy forest management actions. What is being proposed is a small drop in the bucket (one little aspirin) of what is needed to restore the forest from 40 years of neglect, and there are a lot of other issues to deal with such as rebuilding markets, and industry capability. We will discuss some of that later. In the meantime, when you see a logging truck going down the road, you can know that load of logs tells you the “doctor” is working to improve watersheds, elk and other wildlife habitat, recreation opportunities, economic stimulus and restoring a piece of forest to renewed health. The beauty of it is, the timber companies are paying us to let them improve the forest, instead of us paying the federal government to burn it down. When was the last time you called a contractor to repair your house, and he paid you to let him do the work? Well that is what the loggers are doing to repair the “forest house”. Go hug a logger, he’s the true environmentalist and forest doctor!

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.