‘Forest With a Future’ misleading title
Question: What is a “forest with a future”?
Answer: A “forest with a past” – Old Growth.
A “forest with a past” is an old-growth forest with a mosaic of uneven-aged trees and a diversity of tree species. Large, old trees provide the structure for a forest with a full range of plant and animal life. Its past contributes to present growth and future resistance to fire and protection of habitat for forest diversity.
The Forest Service’s new campaign “A Forest With a Future” is another misleading title to go with “Healthy Forests Act” and “Clear Skies Initiative”. Previous public (and current private) forest management included clear-cutting and high-grading of the largest trees, leaving slash, and creating conditions for huge fuel buildups. These are forests without a past or a future. They have a limited present, only the cycle it takes to create middle-sized trees before removing them.
The first example of the “Forests with a Future Campaign” is the announced revision to the Sierra Framework that will greatly increase logging in the Sierra Nevada, taking large, fire-resistant trees while failing to adequately address surface and ladder fuels. It will override a carefully balanced plan that took ten years and over 120 public meetings to create, with a plan that took one year to create and had only four stakeholder meetings, all not open to the public. Many scientists and its own science consistency team are critical of this plan.
This new plan, instead of concentrating on reducing fuels near communities through thinning from below and removing the slash and ladder fuels, will allow half of its limited funds to be spent in remote areas that are of no threat to humans. It significantly weakens grazing limitations and water quality protections, increasing the risk of stream bank and meadow erosion. Though cutting and selling large trees may create some revenue that could be used to remove brush and smaller trees, it also reduces scenic values that bring revenue to local counties through tourism and recreation.
We have already seen examples of what future management might be. Recently, a federal judge ordered the U.S. Forest Service to cease logging on the Burnt Ridge timber sale in the Sequoia National Forest. The sale would have logged 1.6 million board feet of trees within a designated old-growth area and push the imperiled Pacific fisher and the California spotted owl closer to extinction. Despite the Bush administrations rhetoric about thinning small trees to reduce fire hazards, the Burnt Ridge sale only included trees larger than ten inches in diameter. On the proposed Red Star Restoration Project, the Forest Service again would not remove the smaller, dead trees or thin in areas that were less than 75% burned.
Instead of revising the Sierra Framework, it should be given a chance to succeed. Let the ten years of the planning period be completed to give the old forest emphasis areas a chance to begin to recover from the taking of the large trees in the past.
The real efforts should be to work with Fire Safe Councils to provide funds and produce projects near communities to create defensible space around homes by removing and chipping brush around homes and removing ladder fuels by thinning the smaller trees until fuel loads and flame lengths are reduced to keep fires on the ground.
The Forest Service can work in the public lands surrounding communities with the same emphasis on thinning from below and removing surface fuels to prepare for future controlled burns that will maintain these areas and protect them from catastrophic fires. We, as a society, must be prepared to finance these projects, not by taking the larger trees that are fire-resistant and whose canopy prevents brush growth, but by realizing that past management has created a problem that will require the expenditures of one-time funds to restore the forests to a manageable state.
Environmentalists tried and failed to get the Bush Administration to modify the Healthy Forests Act to concentrate fuel reduction funds near communities. Citizens should still make their positions heard by demanding the Forest Service prioritize their projects around communities. And the community also needs to support Fire Safe Councils and task forces that are working to produce county fire plans that protect the local communities.
Let us all work together to do the jobs that benefit the community and still maintain forests that will truly have a “future”.
Barbara Rivenes is with the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign.
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