Brown: Your Forest Disservice at work |

Brown: Your Forest Disservice at work

Howard Brown
An Earthly Idea

On Sept. 13, this Summit Daily News opinion page ran a thought-provoking and inflammatory pair of columns. On top was a Mike Littwin piece describing how CIA Director John Brennan persists in defending the agency’s (our) use of torture in the face of revelations of abhorrent interrogation practices and lack of result from them. On the bottom was a White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams guest column defending tree cutting and slash-pile burning out Tiger Run Road (and throughout Summit County). One friend described it as a “sappy Pollyana dismissal of serious issues.” Another called it “government at its worst.”

Admitting the clear-cuts are ugly and the pile-burning smoke “annoying,” Fitzwilliams says these “treatments” are necessary to provide firefighters areas to safely conduct operations in event of a wildfire. He goes on to say that we, as residents, must accept “short-term loss for long-term gain.” In fact, it will be just the opposite. The benefit to firefighting will be very short-term. The ugly clear-cuts will “bounce back,” as Fitzwilliams says, into ugly “doghair,” dense thickets of young lodgepole pine. These will be highly difficult for hikers to navigate, let alone firefighters hauling bulky equipment.

Eventually (because lodgepole grow so densely and very slowly), the doghair will evolve into taller trees. This “young” monoculture lodgepole forest will be much taller but still very dense and not easy to navigate. The tall skinny trees will also be prone to blowdown and dangerous crown fire. Finally, 80 to 100 years from now — and again directly contrary to Fitzwilliams’ statement — the forest will be exactly the same as it is now. The mature lodgepole forest will start to thin out after attack by pine-bark beetles. Then — or now, if we don’t want to lose our beautiful forests for 100 years — we will have the choice to once again clear-cut and start over or to allow the forests to complete their natural evolution to the spruce-fir climax forest of this area. Much wider spaced, spruce-fir forests are far friendlier to wildlife, wildflowers, hikers, hunters — and firefighters.

As for that “annoying” — actually quite health-endangering air pollution and serious fire risk by sheer number of slash-piles — smoke, there is absolutely no need for it or benefit from it. Perhaps it might cost a little more, but simply chip the slash-piles in place and spread the chips as mulch. The mulch will help keep out noxious weeds and highly flammable grasses until trees do start to grow back.

Howard Brown lives near Silverthorne. While he has extensive environmental policy analysis experience at the federal, state and local levels, he attributes his expertise to observing and asking questions while enjoying Summit County’s beauty.

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