New forest boss backs thinning |

New forest boss backs thinning

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The new supervisor of the White River National Forest, which surrounds Eagle County and includes Vail and Beaver Creek mountains, said she supports thinning trees as a way to ease the threat of catastrophic fires.Maribeth Gustafson said her current office in California “takes an aggressive stance” of removing hazardous fuels, such as dead trees, that can feed forest forests. Gustafson is the forest supervisor of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit in California.Lake Tahoe is famous for the clarity of its water, she noted. The erosion that would result from a large forest fire in the area could devastate the lake. Gustafson said she has tapped into special federal funds during her five-year tenure as forest supervisor to undertake projects to thin forest lands throughout the Lake Tahoe watershed.Gustafson’s staff treated 3,834 acres as part of its fire management plan last year. Nearly three-fourths of that amount was thinned while fires were set to reduce fuels on 1,081 acres.Prior to becoming forest supervisor in the Lake Tahoe area, Gustafson was the assistant director for fire and aviation management in California for three years. She had extensive experience fighting fires and trying to prevent them.She will take the helm at the White River National Forest headquarters in Glenwood Springs in April. She expects tough decisions to be made regarding fire management in the 2.3 million-acre White River forest.”I know every forest in the West is in the same situation,” she said. “We want to make them safe from catastrophic fire.”The key, she said, is the term catastrophic. Natural fires that can be allowed to burn without threatening towns and residences can be beneficial for restoring forest health. Prescribed burns are also a useful tool, she said.President Bush’s Healthy Forest Act is designed to provide funding for logging projects in areas where civilization butts up against national forests and in the watersheds of cities and towns.Environmentalists and other critics claim the president’s initiative is a thinly disguised plan to give logging companies easier access to public timber.==========================================Fire fightingA new study released by the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office concludes that the federal government has made progress in fire management in national forests in the last five years, but more needs to be done to create a cohesive strategy. That report can be found at, Colorado

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