We’re failing to save the forest for the trees
Kudos to Congressman Scott McInnis for reintroducing his “Healthy Forests Restoration Act” in the U.S. Congress. After 60 years of active efforts by U.S. forest managers to stop every fire that starts, our Western forests are now choked with unprecedented and unsustainable amounts of vegetative cover. In areas that tree-ring studies indicate once sustained 50-200 trees per acre prior to European settlement, we presently have tree stands as dense as 600-1,000 trees per acre. Because for over half a century we eliminated fire – nature’s only tool for cleansing and rejuvenating its forest ecosystems – we now are witnessing the die-out of entire forest stands due to insect infestation. Add a few thousand trophy homes in the wildland/urban interface and an ever-increasing number of weekend warriors recreating throughout the woodlands, and we now have a combustible catastrophe that is literally waiting to go up in flames with the next lightning strike or careless camper.We have stripped our forests of their primary defense and placed them square in the middle of a collision course with disaster. In our well-intentioned but ill-founded efforts to save every tree at any cost, we have succeeded in jeopardizing the entire forest at all cost.We are just beginning to pay for this irresponsible mismanagement of our forests:-We watched helplessly as almost 600,000 acres of Colorado’s forest ecosystems went up in flames last year – a level of destruction never before witnessed in Colorado history. The unprecedented density of these forests created such an inferno of heat that not only was all vegetation destroyed, but the ground itself was seared to a point that the land won’t be able to revegetate itself for up to 100 years.-In unwittingly designing the destruction of this habitat, we have contributed to the near extinction of several wildlife species, the devastation of entire watersheds and the water quality values which those watersheds once supported, and unprecedented levels of air pollution.-We’ve lost millions of dollars in property values, wiped out what’s left of the ranching industry in some areas, and broken the back of some of western Colorado’s fragile rural economies. And we haven’t even talked yet about the billions of dollars that were spent on emergency firefighting efforts last year!Enough is enough! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that a half-century of fire suppression has created for us an unsustainable and unmanageable environmental and economic catastrophe. We have got to deal with this problem and it requires a change in how we view forest management. Congressman McInnis’ bi-partisan Forest Restoration bill provides for more sensible management of our overgrown forests, and yet preserves the necessary checks and balances to ensure good environmental stewardship of these valuable forests ecosystems. His bill provides additional research funding to protect our forests from destructive insects like the pine beetle, provides incentives for utilizing forest biomass as a renewable energy source, and creates conservation incentives for sensitive species on private lands.Shame on us if we fail to act now to capitalize on this opportunity to improve the management of our national forested lands.Reeves Brown is the president of Club 20, an organization of counties, towns, businesses and individuals in western Colorado.
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