Forestry 101 – PC and otherwise
An environmentalist recently came into my office and asked, “What is your opinion of clear-cuts?” Knowing that she believed clear-cuts to be blasphemous degradations in the temple of the forest goddess, I was concerned I might insult her religion with my answer. Pondering for a moment, scratching my head, I stammered, “Well, ahhh, I really can’t answer that question. It’s like asking me, ‘What is my opinion of a screwdriver?’ You see, I consider a clear-cut to be a forest management tool. If I need a hammer and all I have is a screwdriver, I don’t think much of the screwdriver. Likewise, a clear-cut can be a useful tool under specific circumstances to re-generate a sustainable forest.”
The young woman failed to realize that she lives within a clear-cut. Trees once grew where her house now stands. Most of the homes in Nevada County are located within clear-cuts, and they are built of wood. Wood comes from trees. Make the connection.
The Natural Heritage 2020 controversy continues to divide the community. Who doesn’t believe good planning is important? Good forest stewardship requires using sound forest management. Let’s review Forestry 101.
What is a tree?
Definition No. 1: Trees are large plants. Photosynthesis transforms sunlight into a rigid cellulose structure. Trees successfully out-compete smaller plants for light and resources. Human beings use trees for a variety of purposes.
Definition No. 2: Trees embody the essence of mystical wonder. The energy of trees creates an ecological habitat; a magical place of dappled sunlight and harmony. Human activity disrupts this harmony.
Can these divergent perspectives be reconciled? Not likely, but the government enters the picture anyway. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has a copious set of regulations called the Forest Practice Act. These rules enforce responsible resource management while providing the public with timber and other forest products. Full consideration is given to watershed protection, fisheries and wildlife. The forest industry believes there are too many regulations and the environmental community wants more laws. Perhaps that means, for once, that the government is in the right place.
What is “Forestry”?
The generally accepted definition of “Forestry” is the art and science of managing natural resources on forest lands for human benefit. A forester considers not only trees, but also protection of wildlife, preserving clean water, and protecting the forest from fire, pests and diseases. Managing forest resources to produce wood products while at the same time protecting other values always involves compromises.
Now there are more trees and fewer people living in Nevada County than there were in the 1850s. A man could ride his horse through an open county of widely spaced trees and not knock his hat off. What do you see in your own back yard? Is it a dense jungle of brush and dead branches? Why is the forest so unhealthy? Remember Darwin and the survival of the fittest theory? Competition for limited resources creates stress. Insects and disease then attack weaker trees. Historically, periodic low-intensity fires cleaned up brush and spaced out larger trees. Human activity has altered this pattern and now human activity is needed to effect positive change.
If you don’t want the next fire to result in a massive clear-cut of your environment, get out a saw and go to work. Begin with removing all small cedars covered with black sooty mold. Fire safety and forest health will be greatly enhanced. Prune up all trees as high as you can reach with a pole saw. This will break up the continuity of fuels that can carry a ground fire into the tree canopy. Aggressively treat manzanita, especially along roads and driveways. Fire engines will not save you. You will die surrounded by flaming nature. Space out larger trees at least 15 feet to 20 feet apart. Some trees removed may have some commercial value. You will be saving your life and improving the economy at the same time.
Politically correct forestry suggestions:
Embrace diversity. There is a trend within the environmental community to honor all species. All species except the human species. According to Darwin, humans may be the most advanced species on the planet. The survival of the fittest theory teaches that the smartest, meanest, or most adaptable son of a gun wins. Humans demonstrate these winning characteristics. Darwin may not agree, but the burden of being king of the hill brings with it the responsibility for wise leadership. This is a sacred trust. Life is precious. Take care of it. Save the spotted owl, save the whales, and save the humans.
Think globally. Act locally. Start with your own little corner of the universe. Remember everything is connected. The decisions you make effect your neighbors and the world. During a recent forestry conference in Grass Valley, a university professor made the statement that not cutting trees in the Tahoe National Forest will result in the loss of numerous species elsewhere on the planet; places that don’t have good timberland or forest practice rules. Paper and wood products come from trees, and like money, do not appear out of thin air.
Space- the final frontier. Put a little space (clear-cut) between you and the wildfire heading your direction. Neighborhoods just like yours have gone up in flames during recent years. The Sierra Club will not be there to protect you. However, as you are going through the ashes, they may be on hand to protest the removal of your dead trees.
Stop global warming. Or rather, like the bumper sticker that recently gave me a chuckle, “Stop Global Whining.” If you see your neighbors spacing out trees and treating brush, don’t complain. Bake some cookies and take them over. They may have just saved your life. We are all in this together. Forest health and fire safety is a community affair.
Question authority. Prior to the beginning of a forestry class during the mid-1970s at U. C. Berkeley, a student scrawled the words “Question Authority” across the blackboard. The professor entered the classroom and observed the message. He quietly picked up the chalk and wrote in big letters, “When authority answers, will you listen?” Our forestlands are a complex mosaic of species and their interactions with the environment. In order to be good stewards of the land, we need to use the tools of sound forest management.
Peace, and may the Forest be with you.
Don MacKenzie is a forester with the California Dept. of Forestry and Fire Protection and a member of the the NH2020 Forestry Working Group. This article does not represent either group.
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