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Agency has no easy job managing forest

Alan Braunholtz

Fingers point blame in all directions: environmentalists have prevented essential logging; old logging practices created lots of trash and trees all the same age, prone to disease.

Blame aside, what to do now? Logging the dead and dying trees and cleaning out some of the accumulated fuels makes sense, especially in forests close to urban areas.

Opposition to logging often seems to be more an issue of trust and ignorance of modern selective, low-impact logging techniques. In the ’60s the Forest Service could be seen as an extension of the timber industry, approving devastating but profitable clear cuts with little concern for recreational or wildlife impacts. The public and the forests are still trying to recover from this betrayed trust.

Modern logging can be done in ways that would please most environmentalists, if the goal is primarily forest health. Low pressure tires, selective tree cutting, strict monitoring, minimal road construction and removal after an area is logged can produce a healthy forest better able to cope with beetle epidemics.

For an example, check out the slope behind the Minturn ranger station. It looks pretty good up there. This is, of course, from our point of view. The forest’s natural cycle over hundreds of years will, if left to itself, solve the problem, but our cycles don’t often mesh with Mother Nature’s.

Logging’s problem is political. People worry that all this logging for forest health and fire prevention will become a smokescreen for the timber industry to get their hands on untouched forests. The finances don’t help here.

If the Forest Service budget went up with a directive to use the money to log it right and get the forests healthy, then I’d be less concerned. Instead past salvage logging riders and an increasingly stretched budget suggest the Forest Service may be forced into fiscal compromises more conducive to timber industry than forest health.

The abandonment of the roadless rule (designed to preserve pristine areas) by new Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth also erodes trust. An extremely popular initiative that got a record 2 million public comments (over 95 percent in favor) is being quietly pushed aside. The official reason is ironically “not enough public comment.” By public, I guess they mean public companies in the timber, mining and oil industries.

When public comment supports policies that our administration and local politicians dislike, they are quick to belittle these comments as from outsiders or “computer generated.”

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission found out the hard way how broad the support for wildlife and lands is among the public. They chose a committee of 21 citizens to develop recommendations for a grizzly bear management plan. These citizens came from such diverse backgrounds that many thought (hoped!) they couldn’t possibly reach a consensus. They did and recommended that grizzly be allowed to expand to any part of

the state where they could find suitable habitat.

The commission ignored this and promptly received 8,000 responses, all but 10 objecting to their ignorance. Claiming these letters had been orchestrated by the Sierra Club and other “meddlers,” they ordered a telephone poll of “normal” residents.

Again by a huge margin, Wyoming residents favored bear expansion with 75 percent saying that bears benefited the state. Seems that if people bother to send a letter (computer generated or not), they really care. The telephone survey suggests that if more people knew how to influence decisions, more would write in supporting wildlife.

. Following lengthy public input, our local forest plan received extra attention from U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis and emerged reflecting his input rather than the public comments on some issues. Inflow rights for forest streams were a prime one. No surprises there. He is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, and a powerful man.

The major problem facing our forests is one of sustainability. Too many people want too much from the forest. Somehow the Forest Service needs to get all the users to agree to sustainable use. That’s no easy task, as no user groups seem willing to give up anything to help out the greater good of the forest’s health.

We’re all myopically focused on our own interests. A national organization like the Forest Service should be allowed to see past these local conflicts and rivalries and plan for the long-term health of the nation’s forests.

It’s called the big picture. Our Forest Service is incredibly knowledgeable about forests, and we should all be willing to listen to them and vice versa.

Understanding the issues helps, as you need local acceptance and voluntary compliance by the locals who often have the biggest impacts on the forest. Still, voluntary compliance doesn’t always work. Rules are a reminder to ourselves to play fair and rules need enforcement. People are still lighting campfires and throwing cigarettes out of car windows despite well-publicized regulations.

Enforcement and education need rangers on the ground. Without these, any plan is a paper exercise. The Forest Service budget is being cut when the uses of the forests are increasing. Without money it’ll be difficult to manage and regulate any plan, let alone one that takes a serious stab at making the enjoyment of our forests sustainable for future generations. Perhaps a “free for all” regulated only by short-term market forces is what some sectors want, but this would cost the forest dearly.

If we accept that we will never know everything about a system as complex and diverse as a forest, allow mistakes to be made, give the Forest Service a bit more money and a bit less political meddling for special friends. Then they’ll probably do an OK job.

Alan Braunholtz writes a weekly column for the Daily.


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