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Our national coniferous forests require immediate broad-based prescription burning as well as removal of dead and smaller trees, by fire and where required by hand, in order to leave an optimum density of the largest stems per acre, and we need trails and roads to move equipment and personnel in order to accomplish this, but the "environmental movement" continues to destroy our national heritage.
California fires.
Arizona fires.
BLM, Bureau of Land Management destroys Idaho crops.
For anyone who thinks that our forests are shrinking, from cutting in the U.S., the price of pulpwood is  currently a good indicator of current and future over-supply.  Prior to the government (taxpayer) financed "conservation reserve program" pine pulpwood brought as much as 30 dollars per ton.  Today, because of the high volume of tree planting that resulted from program payments (welfare), and resultant massive acreage that needs thinning simultaneously, pine pulpwood brings 4 dollars per ton, and is currently sold only on a quota system.  In other words the taxpayer and the forest owner both lost money as a result of inept government program implementation.  When these same tracts turn into saw-timber in 10 to 20 years, the same result might be expected in the saw-timber market.  

How much incentive is there today for a land owner to plant timber when he sees pulpwood prices at $4 per ton? What did this do to the value of his land?  What did it do to the bank's loan value?  This kind of misguided government policy/interference will ultimately result in shrinking private timber acreage.  It may also result in permanent, hog production style, booms and busts.  I learned in Nov. of 2003 that many farmers are loosing their farms because government payments in the CRP program cannot cover their expenses, because the pulpwood income they were counting on from the first thinning is virtually non-existent.

Today forest shrinkage only takes place on public forest land.  In spite of the devastating consequences that we continuously observe, U.S. citizens do not seem to understand that our government should not own forest land.  The most obvious problem is the lack of economic self-interest. It is unfortunate that our government has anything to do with regulating forests or farming or any other rural based production activity.  It certainly has kept consumer food prices at a fraction of parity prices but at what cost?  

It is a bigger shame that, because of some devistating fires resulting in deaths and property damage nearly 100 years ago, the government pursued a policy that was entirely intolerant of forest fires.  Fires are normally the result of such natural phenomena as lightning strikes, that ignite fuel in a forest floor.  When this happens in hot and dry conditions the result can be devastating, especially if insufficient rain follows the lightning.  

When forests burn under moderately damp conditions the positive effect is that small trees and shrubs are killed and pine needles and other accumulated fuel on the forest floor are consumed, leaving the larger trees that are more fire resistant and have already demonstrated their superior genetic ability to outgrow their neighbors.  A moderate fire leaves the forest thinned and virtually fuel free and heading toward a safe and healthy future, provided that periodic prescribed burning is continued.


To punctuate the devastating effects of forest overcrowding and fuel accumulation (that is, government ownership) 'Scientific American' reports that in the 19 years "Between 1931 and 1950, crown fires burned 12,000 acres in the Southwest; between 1991 and 1997, they consumed 331,000 acres."  in only 6 years; more than 82 times the rate of acres burned per year.  Thanks NWF, Greenpeace, Sierra and WWF!

What the government policy of intolerance to fire accomplished was to have had brush, small trees, pine needles, and other fuel accumulate for more than 90 years, in virtually all of our public forest land, dooming our national forests to a certain future of intense fiery death, and subsequent total devastation, a glimpse of which we had the opportunity to observe in the 1988 Yellowstone National Park fire among others.  I have read many, especially conservative, publications extolling the virtues of this fire and the supposedly amazing "regeneration" of the forest lands in Yellowstone park.  This is often accompanied by references to the fires having also created a better browse and habitat for game.  In 2002 I had the opportunity to take a 90 mile snowmobile trip up to Old Faithful geyser and I can attest that 15 years after the fires of 1988 the "regeneration" includes a desperately thin and patchy scattering of trees 2 to 6 feet tall with 1 to 2 inch base diameters, including very few stems per acre.  Here's a description of part of the "forest" 6 years after the fires.  


Consider if, instead of no tree cutting, Yellowstone Park had harvested trees over the years by clear-cutting relatively narrow corridors (not necessarily symmetrical, in order to maintain aesthetic beauty for tourism) with rotating controlled burns and thinning of the remaining standing timber.  The result would have been an excellent browse and cover for animals in the harvested strips at least through the tenth or even twentieth year after timber harvest.  An additional benefit would have been to use the harvested timber to produce lumber for housing, and pulp for paper production, instead of burning and producing nothing more than CO2.  Third, the time it takes to harvest timber offers an opportunity for forest residents to migrate away from the affected area and take up new residence in the surrounding forest.  Fourth, wildlife benefits tremendously by prescribed burning in terms of food and habitat improvement.  The fifth and most obvious benefit would have been the ability of these corridors to act as fire breaks to prevent a forest fire from spreading across and devastating nearly the entire park, as it did.  These strip areas would be more easily reforested because they would enjoy partial protection offered by the surrounding forest from harsh winter winds and other environmental hazards that young seedlings are sensitive to.  Further, the seed blown from mature trees in the surrounding forests into the strip areas could be left to produce natural seedlings for the new forest if hand planted seedlings, with superior growth and disease resistant genetics from nursery grown trees, were not considered desirable (natural).  A continuous dense forest canopy, such as Yellowstone Park "management" maintained prior to the fire, produces an open monoculture that offers little to wildlife in terms of food or cover.  Instead of reasonable management the park received the "hands-off, no-thin, no-road", "environmentalist" policy that will inevitably create a barren wasteland of all of our national forests.


Forest overcrowding produces trees with reduced crown area which in turn produces poor growth and high susceptibility to disease and insect infestation from species such as bark beetles.  In general, trees should be thinned at a time that will allow at least 30% of the height of the tree to remain crown.  When crown percentage drops below 25% of the total stem height the tree is as good as dead because all it can do is maintain the existing stem, thus growth is halted and vigor is gone.  Trees protect themselves from beetles by sealing the hole behind the pest with sap causing it to suffocate.  Trees that are weak do not have enough "spit" to employ for this purpose and thus are easily killed by a pest species that might otherwise have had little impact.  Bark beetles are one of the ways that God thins forests of weaker, underperforming trees, but these beetles can be devastating to poorly managed, overcrowded, forests.


The reason that private forests are not often devastated by fire is that tree density and accumulation of fuel in the volumes that killed Yellowstone are not normally tolerated.  Periodically forest managers reduce the fuel through a method that is referred to as prescribed burning.  Generally this is done 2 or 3 days after a wet cold front blows through and after the breeze dies down but is still predictable in terms of direction and strength.  The fuel in the forest floor dries a little over these few days, but is still fairly damp in character.  The ambient air is still humid which keeps the fire cool as the air is pulled into the base of the flames.  It is also of further benefit to set the fire after sunset (but no longer approved in most areas) so that the heat and subsequent drier air produced by sunshine is not a factor.  

A prescribed burn is generally set using a drip torch that drips a mixture of diesel and gasoline that is ignited as it drips from the wick/tube.  The fire is usually set along the downwind edge of the subject tract so that the flames will slowly crawl upwind through the forest floor consuming the pine needles and killing small trees and brush by damaging the bases of their trunks.  These fires have very little impact on any of the game species, who have a very easy time staying ahead of the flames, or in the case of rodents/lizards can burrow safely into their holes since the heat from the fire is not intense.  But at the same time these fires can be devastating to the animal parasite population which includes such species as ticks.


Of course we only have to remember back a couple of years to the Los Alamos fires, one of the most destructive blazes we have witnessed since Yellowstone, to find that it was the result of a prescribed burn, set in absolutely improper conditions, that ran out of control.  The reason for this, of course, was that the "manager" was a government employee setting the "prescribed burn" on public forest land.  Since he had no financial interest in the trees, their post-burn value was meaningless to him.  Further, his personal liability was limited in regard to the fire affecting neighboring property, because of his position as a government employee.  He can depend on Uncle Sam paying-up to compensate the neighbor for his damages, but in most cases the government worms out of their responsibilities in this regard.  


For those stunningly ignorant self-proclaimed "environmentalists" concerned about the CO2 produced by prescribed burning, the same amount of CO2 would be produced through the natural decomposition of these materials over time.  Additionally, CO2 from natural sources is produced at 29 times the rate of all human fossil fuel burning and forest management burning combined.  By contrast, when timber is destroyed in wildfires, CO2 production is maximized through the immediate destruction of all of the material.  If the trees had been harvested and sawn into framing timber prior to the fire, the bulk of the material could have been converted into houses instead of CO2 and ash.


Here is an outrage involving forest fire fighter deaths resulting from government bureaucracy.  Thanks environmental groups for creating the consequence of dysfunctional bureaucracy!


Since our self-anointed, never-created-two-nickels-worth-of-wealth-in-their-lives environmental community has created a virtual ban on any kind of management activity in our national forest lands, we will have them, and even more importantly their supporters, to thank for what could eventually be the total destruction of our national forest lands, through extraordinarily fiery death.  These nit-wits have also sealed the fate of the very forest inhabitants that they pretend to protect, by subjecting them to a fate of inescapable holocausts of larger and more rapidly traveling, and more devastating fires attacking the hapless forest victims from all sides. Their ban on roads eliminates routes of escape by forest fire fighters as well as ingress and egress by forest management personnel.


I would suggest that perhaps all might not be lost, even at this late stage.  If our government insists on maintaining ownership of our forests as a burden of expense (thereby ultimately injuring the poorest among us), I can suggest one method to help mitigate the consequences of past mismanagement.  There needs to be a massive campaign of prescribed burning of these lands on a scale historically unprecedented.  This would best be accomplished after damp cold fronts in the fall before snowfall, and after frontal passages in the spring after the snow has melted.  Since the destructive force of fires running uphill is several times greater than fires on flat ground, I would suggest that hilly or mountainous land could be set on fire from helicopters running along main and attached ridge tops, perhaps by dropping little bits of flaming material with a gelatinous character similar to napalm.  The flaming bits that hit treetops would simply go out or burn a small branch and drop it to the forest floor where the other flaming material had already landed, and begin to burn the fuel in the forest floor downhill from the ridge.  The effect of fire burning downhill is the opposite of that of fire burning uphill, which would result in cool fires ambling down the hillsides to the streams that separate the ridges.  The wild game could migrate down toward the streams as the fire approached.  The streams would help to limit the fires from jumping onto neighboring hillsides and starting uphill fires.  In the event that this did happen, the unintended fire could be mitigated in a back-fire by setting the next ridge top on fire.  This program would work in a reasonable fashion and would help preclude future intense unintended fires set by lightening in tinder dry, overfueled forests during the heat of the summer, to the total destruction of the forests and the attendant wildlife.  


A more obvious solution to these problems would be to convert our national forest land to private ownership through the sale of land.  Deeds could include limits on the amount of clear-cutting to be allowed each year, as a percentage of the tract, in order to maintain the integrity of the forest as well as to keep timber prices from becoming destabilized through too much immediate supply.  Through ownership, self-interested parties would have the obvious task of preserving their investment.  If, for example the amount of clear-cutting was restricted to 1 to 2% of the tract acreage per year, the new owners would be well served to begin their cutting by creating corridors to help mitigate the potential destructive forces of wild fires.  These cut areas would have the unintended/intended effect of creating a biodiverse habitat which would include food and cover favoring most all species.  The forest owners would also begin management practices such as reducing the amount of fuel in the forest floor.  All the while their efforts would have to proceed with care so as not to suffer the liability of damaging neighboring timber stands.  Owners would find benefit from specific management practices that maximize wildlife habitat, for bird watchers, hunting leases and recreation, just as private forest owners find currently.
Privatization of our National forest land would also result in income to the Federal government from the land sales rather than its continuing to suffer the ongoing burden of expense of ownership and management of these public lands.  The worst cases, and some of the argument bolstering the "environmentalist" views regarding logging abuse, are the result of private industry cutting on government land.  How could anyone expect a company that only has an interest in harvesting the timber, with no self-interest in the future of the land, to act responsibly?  If you don't understand this concept look at the beautiful plantations, favoring game habitat, that have been established by large forest production companies on their own timber lands.


 Update on October 28, 03.  Everyone who has donated money to environmental groups that have obstructed prescribed brush/forest burning and other forest management activities in California and elsewhere (virtually all environmental groups) should well have reason to wonder if they have the destruction of at least 2000 more homes and the blood of at least 18 more people on their hands.  Why support organizations that sue our government to push agendas like roadless forests that will help to kill forest fighters and create even more infernos that destroy everything in their path.  Roadless forests make it extremely more difficult to enter forests to thin overcrowded conditions and perform prescribed burns.


One of the "environmentalists" stated reasons for obstructing the badly needed prescribed brush burns in California was to protect a rodent that they claimed was endangered, but in fact was common to many other areas.  Even more amazing were the forests where they were responsible for blocking prescribed burning in using the spotted owls as the excuse for preventing prescribed burns, even though they are among the greatest beneficiaries because the fire clears the understory making the owl's prey easier to spot.  How do rodents and owls fare after a crown fire inferno that travels at 20 to 30 miles per hour and destroys everything in its path, compared to fires that could have been set in calm damp weather and burned slowly upwind or downhill through the forest floor?  The pending disasters have been made clear to the government for more than a decade but environmental groups continued to obstruct using funds irresponsibly donated by the public as well as the spoils from "settlements" of frivolous law suits that these donations empowered, brought against corporations and the taxpayer (government/Fish and Wildlife) in order to block attempts toward constructive action.  Donations to organizations always produce results, and donations to environmental groups have, this fall (03), helped to kill at least another 18 people.  How will God judge those who donated to these radical environmental groups without bothering to investigate or consider the consequences, especially when it comes to helping groups who's God is nature?  


As is evidenced by work collected by the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, among many others, prescribed burning is generally highly beneficial to all forest species from small rodents to birds, with the exception of invertebrates like ticks that normally parasitize animals.  Even lizards can bury themselves underground for protection.  Rapidly burning wildfires such as those that took their murderous course in California, however, roast rodents and other animals, including people, alive.  In its wake will be left another desert, compliments of the environmentalists.  Isn't it time for the government to take forest management policy out of the destructive hands of ill-informed pseudo-environmental groups, and return it to people in the public and private sectors that understand what they are doing?  What is the ultimate goal of these radical environmental groups?  (Please push your back button now to go back to the environmental page.  If you started with the Oct 03 update simply scroll up)