Stop all the wildfires! We want more elk to hunt! No, we want more deer to hunt! Sage grouse, that is what we want! We want more wilderness and parks! We want wolves!
No, what we really need is for all the single-interest people and groups to butt out of land management, use and politics! The public lands of the state are being eaten by bugs, burned up with fires, eroded from wind and water and the varied special-interest people are demanding their individual idealistic dreams to be the answer for the future of the lands and resources that are not just theirs.
So what is the solution for correcting this mess? Well, open the emergency doors to the trauma center, bring in the experienced doctors and nurses, and kick out all non-emergency bystanders that may bring infection and confusion to the emergency room. Leave it to the local professionals that are experienced and can be held accountable, to meet the needs of the patient and concerns of the legal representatives of the patient. Cut, sew and staple to remove the cancer that is causing the problem, not wasting efforts putting Band-Aids on swollen pimples on the Gluteus Maximus.
The public lands are the trauma centers, and the trees, shrubs and grasses and forbs are the vegetative parts in desperate need of life support. They have not received care and nourishment for over 40 years. Perceived changes in wildlife, soil and waters are symptoms that reveal the illness of the vegetation. Good doctors don’t treat symptoms, but treat the cause.
Vegetation is the part of the environment that can actually be managed, and therein lies the cause of the other symptoms. The water, wildlife and soil are all dependent upon and respond to changes in the vegetation. Vegetation helps control how much, if any, rain or snow reaches the ground, and then if it penetrates the soil or just quickly runs off. Vegetation influences what wildlife may choose to inhabit an area. Wildlife species are very adaptable and mobile. They readily relocate to where they find food and water and a little shelter and it doesn’t matter if it is man-made or natural, as long as they can access and use it. The idea that we have to protect a certain habitat for a certain mouse or bird is pure baloney. If that habitat changes or disappears, they move on to another similar one. Actually, it can be argued that many of these so-called endangered species are actually invaders as they move to new areas where man has created new or better habitat than nature provided. But I digress, that is a whole story of its own.
Question, do you want more elk, or deer, or turkey, or – to hunt? Or maybe you want to see a New Mexico jumping mouse or a spotted owl to see if they are actually real. Well, leaving vegetative management to Nature will not provide that for you.
Nature manages by catastrophic event. Man can intervene and emulate nature in a more caring and controlled way. The key is to manage the vegetation for the greatest growth and healthiest combined mix of trees, shrubs and grasses that will benefit the vegetation and watershed retention and runoff. The wildlife will adapt to the level of food, water and cover that meets their needs. They know their own needs much better than any man. Their numbers will be reflected by what the habitat will support.
My grandparents homesteaded on the south rim of the Dolores River, there were no elk or deer to be seen in the scrub oak and sagebrush. Today, following the last 100 years of vegetation changes, developing fields and ponds, the same homestead has elk and deer that have moved in and a symbiotic relationship has been developed with man sharing a changed environment. When the Parks and Wildlife agency does the estimate of elk each January, which they have just completed, do you know where they go? To the private land habitat, because that is where the elk will be found.
Other wildlife responds the same, as the vegetative habitat changes, they adapt and relocate to better conditions as well. Vegetative and habitat changes are going to happen, either by nature or by man. The choice is, do we have a managed change by man or a catastrophic change by nature.
Don’t try to manage for more wildlife or recreation, but rather for healthy forest and range vegetation that will then provide the necessary habitat. Also don’t pretend to protect one animal, bird or fish over another one by man artificially picking winners and losers in the natural processes as environments and habitats change.
It is good to see that just maybe the Forest Service will attempt to once again begin to manage the vegetative resources in part of the local forest. This will need to employ the management “tools” of the logging and milling and livestock industries to restore healthy vegetative conditions for the benefit of all. It will also provide the opportunity to be innovative and develop a virtual kaleidoscope of uses for the woody products and by products to enhance our economy and reduce the potential for watershed damaging wildfires while rebuilding a healthy vegetative resource base. Recreation interests can then use and benefit from the restored forests and range that management use has developed.
This corner of the state was built on a “Can Do” attitude. It has been going through a “Don’t Do” attitude for a long time. Sure hope this can now be turned back into a “Will DO!” attitude. Let’s emulate nature to manage and use the vegetation that will in turn provide for the other resources.
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.