Forest thinning helps reduce fires

Larry Harrell lhfotoware at
Sun Sep 15 08:21:42 EST 2002

September 13, 2002   Idaho Statesman

Stefany Bales: Forest thinning helps reduce fires

In the wake of President Bush´s recent call to begin thinning our
forests to reduce wildfire risk, some of the country´s most outspoken
environmental groups are crying foul as loud as they can.

Unfortunately, groups like the Sierra Club have lost focus and now
find themselves on the wrong side of a desperate battle to save our
national forests.

The Sierra Club and others say Bush´s Healthy Forests Initiative,
unveiled in Oregon recently, is a timber industry plot to log old
trees, take the profits and run. They claim that Bush is using Western
catastrophic wildfires to open up vulnerable forests to the mercy of
the chainsaw. The plan to thin our forests is nothing more than the
Republican administration caving to the narrow interests of powerful
lobbies, they say.

They´re wrong. And few are listening to their criticism in this summer
of dying forests and burning homes. What forest-management opponents
say just doesn´t add up to people who look out their windows to see
vast forests clearcut by wildfire where beautiful, old-growth forests
once stood.

The problem — overcrowded, stressed forests — is
widespread. Near Flagstaff, Ariz., a city surrounded by the largest
contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the world, there are now 3,000
trees growing per acre where 20 to 50 trees used to grow. Many of
those trees are very small, unnaturally so because of overcrowding.
And many of those trees are fairly large, their tops touching,
creating an unbroken web of green for miles and miles, a perfect
environment for a killing crown fire.

The issue is not what we take off the land — rather it´s what we
leave behind. The argument that all we want to do is take the big
trees is ridiculous. What we want are forests that are healthy and
well-spaced enough to survive the next fires that will surely come.

There is consensus on the solution. Somebody has to cut a lot of those
trees down and either sell them or get rid of them some other way if
our forests are to survive. Some environmental groups say we should
thin only the forests around houses and communities, and sacrifice the
vast wild forests in the backcountry.

But the forests in the backcountry are the ones that protect
endangered plants and animals and provide shade streams for threatened
fish. Those are the forests that give sanctuary to all creatures,
including humans weakened from too much civilization. How does it make
sense to abandon them to fire when we can protect them and the
communities that have grown up around them?

Instead of suing the Forest Service and throwing obstacles in front of
any effort to make thinning our forests possible, the Sierra Club and
their partners have a real opportunity to join with us to make sure
the work gets done right and soon. The timber industry is not the
enemy here. In fact, this debate really has nothing to do with us. At
issue is how we ensure that our national forests are alive and growing
into the next century.

While we cannot and should not exclude fire from the environment, we
can and must re-create conditions that allow our forests to thrive
with fire. We remain committed to doing what we can to make that a

Comment by poster: This seems to be an opinion from an industry
representative. A valid question seems to me is: Will they bid on
projects that barely make them money while removing that small
diameter biomass? There IS a danger that the USFS will offer these
kind of projects and no one will bid on them. If that happens,
everyone loses, again. To me, the ideal situation is to include barely
enough of the worst medium-sized trees, in order to make sure the
sales sell. What also is needed is a new economic revolution in the
timber industry. Monopolies must be broken up to increase competition
for the valuable timber. If we're going to harvest, we might as well
get the full value of the timber. Also, should ALL timber receipts go
back into the Forests from which they were collected? Should county
schools continue to get funds from their local forest harvests?


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