Anyone who has read my past writings probably realizes I have a passion for seeing the state’s public lands and resources being well cared for and producing the natural resources therein. I really get upset at seeing waste of the resources taking place. Recently the local Forest Service office published that it was planning the “Taylor-Stoner Mesas Vegetation Management Project” to improve the health of a small portion of the forest due to insect damage in the spruce /fir stands and the aging/dying of the aspens. This is really good news to see an effort started once again to try to manage the forest for long-term benefits to the watershed, economy and wildlife. Can this really happen?
I have been challenged by some of the public on my stance on the need for real forest management to happen. Those public tell me, “We want to see the forest stay just as it is!” They are assuming the public forest lands are for them and their own wishes, which they are not. That aside, the forests will never be the same tomorrow as they are today, which is different than they were just yesterday. The only thing consistent is change. Trees are like people, some die every day. Here in the USA about 4.8 people die every minute. Aspen trees’ lifespan is similar to humans’. They even choke each other sometimes and infect each other with diseases, but have not yet been observed rioting while under the influence. Some live a little longer and some not as long. Since aspens grow in clones, they all get old at nearly the same time, so we need to get a new “clone family” regenerated and use the old ones for beneficial purposes before it is too late.
In reviewing the proposed EA for the management project, it became apparent that the management actions are structured more for attempting to keep the forest appearing untouched and pristine, as some think it should be, instead of a vibrant working and productive forest. The environmental regulations referenced are for manipulating individual items of special interest to some, rather than the health of the whole forest for all. For example, the plan specifies that not the entire aspen stands in need of regenerating can be treated, but that 7 to 10 dead trees per acre must be left as snags. That’s for the birds! That’s a lot of dead trees! Further, if there are not that many dead trees, then they must “recruit” more standing dead trees. That is environmental talk for deliberate killing of live trees and leaving them standing to be wasted. Last month we learned there are already 834 million standing dead trees in the forests. The private and national forests combined comprise over 24.4 million forest acres, so that would come to over 34 dead trees per acre, but in simply different locations. Since the goal is to make it look like a park, then compare it to Centennial Park in Cortez, which is about 15 acres in size, including the duck pond. If you want it to be a good bird environment, then you need to kill off 150 of those trees (10 per acre) to leave as snags for the birds. Oops, there aren’t 150 trees in the park. Is the park not being well managed environmentally?
The bird trees are but one of the issues. There are other restrictions against management such as not improving areas that are wet or even dampish, or near a waterway, or that might spoil someone’s view, or be near a goshawk nest if one should be found. Incidentally goshawks are in 44 states and Mexico and Canada, so what is the problem? Oh and heaven help us if we should see a lynx or find a rusty tin can, everything must stop for evaluation.
This much-needed project will take 2-3 years to initiate, while the forest continues to deteriorate, and cost nearly a half-million dollars to set up, and the timber industry will have to pay over the half-million to do the actual work of forest health restoration. I certainly hope this project goes through in spite of the faux environmental requirements and costs, as the forest health needs it desperately. It is very interesting to note that the forest and wildlife conditions that we see today, and are so proud of, are there because of past uses and activities such as logging, mining, ranching, road building, and fires, all done without today’s faux environmental restrictions. Now the environmental corporations want to restrict or eliminate them. They want to shoot the goose or geese that laid the golden egg.
By the way, this is not the fault of the local Forest Service; they simply have to comply with the federal directives that were drafted by the environmental corporations back in the ’70s and ’90s. If they don’t, the environmental corporations will sue the federal Forest Service which you and I have to pay for, being taxpayers, while the environmental corporations don’t, since they are tax-exempt. Being federally controlled, the states and counties have no control in local management for forest health, watersheds and economies. Prior to the late ’70s, this Forest Health project would have taken about six months or less to prepare for one-tenth the cost and realize a substantial revenue to the county while resulting in a healthier forest including wildlife, water, forage and recreation. If we want the public forests of the State to be healthy, managed and productive, then the current system of control by faux environmental corporations via Washington must be ended.
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.