Devastated, disastrous, pristine, beautiful, values, destroyed, protected, saved are all very good and descriptive words in our English language and are commonly used in discussing the status of management on the public lands of the state. Now take a minute and think of the mental picture you think of as you slowly read and say out loud each word. Don’t worry about anyone watching you and wondering, they already think you’re weird if you are reading my articles anyway.
Here is one more that I want you to visualize, Clearcut. What did you see? Did you see devastated, destroyed? It depends upon what you have been shown pictures of and been told in the past. Your conclusion is, that’s bad!
But is it? Just maybe you don’t know the whole story and the alternatives. Don’t jump to conclusions before you know all the true scientific facts. Here is another hot one — “Protect Bears Ears Monument.” OK, what did you picture? Did you ask yourself, protect what from what? What has happened that it suddenly needs protection? What effect does it have on you ? How will calling something by a different name protect it? Just what is meant by “protect”? Sounds like a government- sponsored “protection racket.” Again what are the alternative impacts?
Now that you are all worked up, take a deep breath, pour a cup of coffee and calmly read on, I will try to be nicer. The management, use and protection of the public lands of the states have been under attack by special-interest tax-exempt corporations to benefit their own interests and supporters at the expense of the much greater populace, you and me. This has been happening for over 50 years and now we are reaping the results with “devastating” effects from insect epidemics and massive intense wildfires. Some may say, “if those lands had been in wilderness and conserved, that would not be happening.” Well, that is where most have been, and thus precisely why it is happening. Over half of the National Forest lands in Colorado are in special “conservation” lockups as wilderness and roadless areas. In addition there are “Natural Conservation Areas”, “Special Management Areas”, “Natural Areas,” all being primed to die by insects and or wildfire. To make matters even worse, the Travel Management Plans close access for reasonable fire protection and fuel loading reduction and management. Wait! These are in “Conservation Protection” areas so that cannot be happening, right?
What is your visual picture when you hear “conservation”? Is it set aside from use and thus protected? You have been duped by the shrewd environmental word doctors. Webster defines conservation as “the act or practice of conserving; protection from loss, waste, etc.; preservation.” It is an “action to protect from loss or waste.” Conservation prevents waste and loss, by manipulating, using and enhancing a resource, not by letting it die from insects or disease and be wasted in wildfires and decay. That is gross irresponsibility for any true steward of lands and resources.
There are over a million acres in Colorado in insect epidemic conditions and we are now seeing massive wildfires, devastating the watersheds. How do you Conserve and Preserve fruits like apples, tomatoes, etc.? You plant, culture, prune, cultivate, thin, protect from insects, then harvest, treat for canning, drying or maybe brewing. You do not simply admire and take pictures of the plants as the weeds and insects invade, stagnating the plants, resulting in puny minimal fruit that you let fall to the ground and be wasted. That is precisely what we are doing with the National Forests, paying taxes to watch them be wasted and die while claiming they are being conserved and protected.
So what does this have to do with us in Southwest Colorado? Well, three-quarters of our lands are in federal control, with that containing nearly 100 percent of the productive watershed for the Dolores and Mancos drainages. There are designated wilderness, roadless and natural areas, Special Management areas where you are told they are being “protected and conserved.” Unfortunately, there is an increasing incidence of insect damage in the pine and spruce areas, which has grown from about 2000 acres a couple years ago to now approaching 10,000 acres, including areas from the Western Glade and the upper Dolores River.
Travel management plans have closed access for reasonable fuelwood gathering that would reduce fire hazards, and restricted rapid deployment of ground-based fire-suppression equipment. There have been some that cry that “climate change” is causing the insect and fire problems, nothing can be done. Baloney! The local conditions are now of unmanaged forest lands that have heavy fuel loading in many areas, combined with increasing insect and disease mortality in the forest and increasing drought conditions is a perfect set-up for loss of the Dolores and Mancos river watersheds which supplies our drinking, irrigation and recreation water. No time for finger pointing, now is the time for action!
The importance of “conservation and protection” of the forest and range resources of all the public lands is of highest priority. This means thinning trees and brush, removing dead fuels, managed livestock grazing, opening access for timely fire suppression, all to conserve, reduce and prevent waste of the resources. The greedy environmental corporations have been playing mind games, using words that carry varying visual meanings and elicit high emotional responses of support from the uninformed public who do not realize it is all a big lie to lock up the public lands of the state from true conservation and protection, allowing them to be wasted. The future of healthy public lands, resources, economies and lives of local counties and states is literally in the teetering balance.
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.