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After the Smoke Clears
Published on Mon, Jul 15, 2013 (6:15 p.m.)CONTACT: C.J. HADLEY
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
After the Smoke Clears
Countdown to Destruction
Fires are igniting drought- and disease-plagued brush and trees, setting off thousands of blazes that put people in peril, destroy their homes, kill wildlife, and place America’s natural resources in jeopardy. The destructive fires can be directly linked to the failed policies of the federal agencies charged with managing and protecting America’s forests and litigation-happy special interest groups. It’s time to take a look at the environmental problems and some solutions that can help reduce the emotional and financial impact of forest fires.
RANGE magazine, an award-winning publication devoted to issues that affect ranchers, farmers, wildlife and outdoorsmen, is the outspoken advocate for people who play and work on the land and an outspoken critic of human-caused problems that plague the West. Over the past 20 years, RANGE has featured a collection of environmental analysis and special reports on such topics as the link between the health of American forests, destructive wildfires, drought, governmental policy, endangered species actions, crippling of the logging industry, dire economic consequences, a disappearing rural culture and lifestyle, and legal actions by environmental groups. Playing a starring role in the situation is the impact of federal ownership of more than 30 percent of America’s lands, making Washington, D.C., the country’s largest landowner. Westerners are particularly vulnerable because 50 percent of their landmass is federally controlled. In Nevada alone, 87.6 percent of the state’s 110,000 square miles is under federal jurisdiction.
There are numerous stories, too, about the power of environmental groups, such as The Nature Conservancy, the Center for Biological Diversity, or Western Watersheds that have the political muscle to make policy or the money to file lawsuits that lay the groundwork for federal decisions that not only close off public lands to food production and recreation, but can have tragic consequences.
For example, a successful campaign by environmental groups to have the spotted owl declared an endangered species literally destroyed the timber industry in the 1990s, and as a direct result wildfires destroy millions of acres because forests are a tinderbox of diseased trees and biomass just waiting for Mother Nature to strike. The tragic loss of life, land, homes, and wildlife could be lessened by selective harvesting; the whys and wherefores revealed by RANGE explain the policies and politics, and the part they play in the losing battle against wildfires.
There is a bit of good news: there are some who are starting to realize selective thinning of the forest is a positive approach in combating wildfires. A crown fire that starts running has the winds taken out of its sail when it hits the heat sink of a green clearcut. It has to go around and start over again on the other side. Again and again. The clearcuts buy time and space for fire crews.
The bad news: there are few loggers, sawmills, equipment—basically, timber as a vigorous industry no longer exists and has to be rebuilt. Unfortunately fire season is upon us, and those in the path of the firestorm still await policy changes from the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM regarding federal lands.
Links to RANGE’S Fire & Forestry Research
A special report in the Spring 2013 issue of RANGE magazine written by forestry expert Bruce Vincent, explores the politics and attitudes that help fuel the annual conflagrations. Vincent is a third-generation logger and founder of the consulting firm Environomics.
“In 2000, the General Accounting Office presciently reported that the single biggest threat to 192 million acres of western forests is catastrophically huge, catastrophically hot, stand-destroying forest fires. Fed by pervasive fuel-loading problems in our dead and dying overstocked forests, the casualties of the coming calamity will include our wildlands, watersheds, wildlife and forest communities. The report states that the agencies [federal] have done precious little to combat the potential collapse of forest ecosystems,” writes Vincent.
The management policies demanded by an uninformed public that wants to save forests are having the perverse effect of saving our forests…to death, he says. Leading the charge against responsible management of the forests are the professional litigants—many of whom have been paid tax dollars through the Equal Access to Justice Act and the Judgment Fund. Fourteen environmental groups, which have filed at least 1,200 federal suits in 19 states and the District of Columbia, have collected over $37 million in taxpayer dollars thanks to badly written laws. Environmental attorneys don’t even have to win to get paid. Their efforts successfully closed the timber industry, the very industry that could help thin forests and an industry that would bring jobs and money into the Treasury while reducing the amount of diseased and dry fuel and the summer firestorms.
A digital version of the special report, “A Collision of Visions” can be found by linking to: http://www.rangemagazine.com/specialreports/range-sp13-truth_about_woods.pdf
For historical background, the 2011 analysis, “Clearcuts Don’t Burn” by Derek Weidensee, can be found by linking to: http://www.rangemagazine.com/features/fall-11/range-fa11-clearcuts.pdf
U.S. Forest Service firebombed Oregon spotted owl habitat as reported by forestry expert Mike Dubrasich. Check out “The Truth About NSOs” in the Winter 2013 issue by linking to: http://www.rangemagazine.com/features/winter-13/range-wi13-nso_truth.pdf.
Fear of wildfires is behind a growing public desire for more logging of America’s forests. Derek Weidensee’s analysis, “Logging, Good Sense & Hypocrisy,” can be found in the Winter 2012 issue by linking to: http://www.rangemagazine.com/features/winter-12/range-wi12-hypocrisy.pdf.
The naïve acceptance of catastrophic destruction is the subject of “The Warning,” written by ecologist Steven H. Rich, which can be found in the Winter 2009 issue by linking to: http://www.rangemagazine.com/features/winter-09/wi09-warning.pdf.
“Playing With Fire” by Steven H. Rich points to the fact that with no scientific feedback process Forest Service firebugs in Grand Canyon country were stuck on stupid. The story is found in the Winter 2007 by linking to: http://www.rangemagazine.com/features/winter-07/wi-07-playing-with-fire.pdf.
CAPTION: The thinned forest (above) of thick-barked pine will survive a forest fire because it has no fuels that will let fires burn to the tops of the trees. Without thinning, millions of acres of densely overstocked forests will be completely destroyed much like this stand in Arizona (above).
CREDIT: Evergreen Foundation, www.evergreenmagazine.com
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