To manage or not to manage, that is the question! How does that apply to the resources on our so-called Public Lands? Well, first, what do we mean by “manage”? According to Webster, manage is “To handle or direct with a degree of skill”, or “to work upon or try to alter for a purpose.” Both of those denote an action, therefore when we ask the question to manage or not, are we not differentiating between doing and not doing an action?
Last month we looked at how much of the states’ land and resources are under federal control, with as much as 40 percent falling into the “not doing an action,” or no real management, but leaving it to nature to “happen.” In the past week we have witnessed how “letting nature happen” has affected the lives of many peoples due to two local wildfires, the 416 near Durango and the Burro Fire east of Dolores in the Bear Creek drainage. Currently the 416 is over 34,000 acres and the Burro is around 4,000 acres. So far nobody’s house or animals were damaged, so what is the problem? For starters, the fires are not over, and will not be put out, but allow nature to do it whenever, allowing millions of cubic feet of forest products to be wasted, water quality and even recreation values to be degraded.
These two fires are only the beginning, as there will be more in the months and years to come. These fires and those to come are not, and will not be like so-called natural fires of the past, for several reasons. The fires will inflict serious damage to our watersheds, forest resources, fisheries, economies and possibly property and lives.
There are some that believe these losses are OK, as long as “nature rules” and humans are kept out and do not use the resources (except for themselves). Some put the blame for wildfires on past management, use and protection measures in the forest. That is simply not true, there have always been wildfires, many from natural causes, such as lightning, indigenous men in times past, and current man in various ways. The intensity of today’s wildfires results from discontinuing the stewardship management and use that was begun over 120 years ago and essentially ended in 1976 with the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and the new National Forest Management Act (NFMA) when scientific forest management on the public lands was changed to “ Pleasing People Management” (PPM – that is my coinage) in the forest environment. The public has been erroneously told the so-called Public Lands are “their lands,” they belong to [[all]] the people. That is virtually impossible, if they are yours, then they can’t be mine and vice versa, right?
Aren’t we a democracy where all decide what to do with the lands? No, that is not how the government was set up! A democracy would provide for you and your buddies to out-vote me and my buddies on any land management issue as long as you got 51 percent of the vote. Our government was set up as a constitutional republic with a representative government, which is the case for both the federal and states. In the state, much of that representative authority is delegated to the county level with the Board of County Commissioners to represent [[all]] the people and oversight of all]] the lands and resources of the state, excepting Indian Treaty lands, for the health, safety and welfare of the county as a whole. So why do the environmental corporations and their buddies’ “votes” control the management or no management decisions on the Public Lands as if we are a democracy? Long story short, several laws have been passed that were not]] Pursuant to the Constitution that provide for ignoring and negating constitutional representative governance at the state and county level in preference for Pleasing People Management that will provide for parties to take the federal agencies to court if they are not pleased. Forest resource health and people of the counties and state do not matter.
With that background, what will happen to the nearly 40,000 acres of timber that has already been killed or severely damaged? Will it be salvaged for economic return to provide funding for reforestation work? Will access be developed to provide rapid response to control future fires? Will watershed improvement actions be conducted to reduce damage to the fisheries and water quality downstream? Under current repugnant laws and regulations, the answer is likely not.
These two wildfires are a giant wakeup call for the state to take action to begin to salvage the future health, protection and productivity of our critical watersheds by ensuring experienced scientific management and use of the public lands is reinstated for the benefit of [all[ the state, not the desires of the few. Is it too late to save the resources? To be good stewards of the lands and resources our Creator has endowed us with, it is never too late to start, but it is going to be a long task to restore 40 years of damage. Kinda like restoring an old homestead house that hasn’t been used for 70 or 80 years, it has to be approached with a “can do” attitude. The Forest Service Research has done lots of watershed studies in the 1950s to ’70s that clearly points the way for economically restoring the watersheds that will also be consistent with wildlife and recreation desires.
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.