The Destruction of our Forests – Part 2

Part 1 of this article is available here.

Hopefully, the reader now has a better understanding of just one pine tree, forest management practices that maintain forest health, and practices that are detrimental. So, just how are Idaho forests being destroyed? Looking at the historical events provides a timeline of events.

There have been consistent forest management values from the early 1900’s to present. These values include recreational and economic resource use, wildlife habitat, grazing, and watershed protection. Although already understood in the early 1900’s, The Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act (MUSY) of 1960 recognized these values for the development and management of forests, and continued forest vitality. The Multiple-Use Management concept was a good idea but the United States Forest Service (USFS) and other groups took it to an extreme that has led us to the forest destruction we see today.

According to the Forest History Society, forest management from 1910-1929 was based on a European model. The major consideration at the time was the economic impact from forest harvesting, not only for local communities but for the state as well. From his Reconnaissance of the Targhee in 1910, C. E. Dunston’s report recommended establishing best silvicultural practices, preventing fires and bark beetle epidemics (which to this day are still considered primary forest enemies), and both selection and clear cutting for continued forest health and product yield for the Targhee Forest. It was also found that piling and burning of slash was best as the material did not deteriorate rapidly enough, hence being a fire hazard. Reforestation efforts were attempted but not economically feasible. During the 1920’s increased efforts to prevent fires were instituted including lookout posts and training. They found that fires threatened sustained-yield management and in the period before 1929 the outbreaks of bark beetles were the worst. Focus on developing forests for recreational use, creation of national monuments, and game management also began during this time. The forest service itself continue to grow from these early beginnings.

The USDA Forest Service – The First Century booklet describes how common sense practices from the past morphed into a huge conglomerate of “specialists” (starting with MUSY) that originated from expanding federal laws, heavily advocated for by environmental groups, and who believed every forest species should be protected or untouched. It is virtually impossible to practice good forest management without a secondary effect to other species, but it is necessary for the protection of the forest and all forest species which seems to escape environmentalists understanding. In other words, they can’t see the forest for the trees. Mentioned in the booklet is Gifford Pinchot, the First Chief of Forest Service, who began the idea of conservation and founded the Society of American Foresters (SAF) in 1900. Another forest service worker, Aldo Leopold, first wrote about setting aside forests for special protection in wilderness areas in 1914 and was also one of the founders of the Wilderness Society in 1935.

This booklet gives a timeline from the late 1800’s to 2005. Some highlights include their perception of how man has destroyed the forests, increased USFS acquisition and control over forests despite opposition from communities, the beginning of environmental groups who from the 60’s and 70’s have actively engaged in advocating for practices that are destroying forests and instituted endless litigation, increasing regulations that have hampered our ability to properly manage our forests, and federal laws that contribute to the mess. It was in the early 80’s when forest management started to change.

Laws of particular note from the 1970’s are:
National Forest Management Act (NFMA) 1976 – with a 2012 update – established forest management requirements and plans in national forests
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) 1970 – requires an environmental impact statement (EIS) prior to any project
Endangered Species Act (ESA) 1973 – placed restrictions on forest use and protection of habitat
Other laws impacting forest management can be found here.

This booklet also outlines the overall explosion of expanded government control over our forests and dwindling importance of what lodgepoles and forests need to thrive. What the focus became is fully outlined in the first paragraph on page 155, individuals who don’t understand forestry but only their own specific focus and interests. A shorter forest service timeline from the late 1800’s can be found here.

The United States Forest Service (USFS) operates under multiple federal laws. The forester must know and follow regulations that cover everything from how to cut trees, from where the tree can be cut, which tree can be cut, how far from a stream a tree can be cut, what insect or animal makes its home in a pile, which bush grows where, and the list goes on before a tree can be touched or slash cleaned. For the interested reader those regulations can be found at the bottom of the link under Policies. All of these laws were heavily lobbied for by environmental groups in the 1960s and 1970s and large national organizations such as the Sierra Club, Wilderness Society, National Wildlife Federation, and the Natural Resources Defense Council surged in membership, lobbying to pass legislation such as the Wilderness Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. From the early 60’s environmental groups engage in extensive litigation to stop projects, a Targhee case can be found here. A USFS study showed the impact to local jobs and tax revenue as a result of these lawsuits. An effort to stop these groups from massive litigation, which typically center around stopping any efforts for better forest management, was introduced in Congress this year.

The reader is invited to read all of the detailed requirements in 36 CFR 220, from NEPA. Highlights of these restrictive requirements include: any action being subject to USFS control; detailed EIS; justificiation and explanation of the project following scoping; further analysis if a critical habitat, watershed, roadless area, or religious site is perceived by the USFS (or environmental group) to be affected in the EIS; plus restrictions on reforestation, hazardous fuel reduction, harvesting, salvaging, and pest control.

In Part 1, Understanding our Forests, one can see why these requirements contribute to the loss of our forests. These requirements make it almost impossible to properly remove diseased trees, slash, dead wood, or promote regeneration. Even reforesting becomes difficult. These requirements have set up our forests for increased beetle epidemics and wildfires over the last 25 years with millions of forest acres lost. Wildfires have been increasing to the point where Congress tried to intervene in 2002 by reversing these destructive practices. This timeline from 1980 to 2014 shows the increased number of fires including those over 100,000 acres. This map shows the highest mountain pine beetle infestations are in Idaho wilderness areas where forests are “protected”, with no management practices highly recommended by environmental groups, the forest left to beetle destruction.

In response to the increasing problem of forest fires the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003 was an attempt to start managing forests to reduce fire hazards. Following are Targhee and Island Park “proposed actions” that lay out the complex steps that have to be taken to protect forests.

The Porcupine Pasture Project in Targhee and surrounding Island Park area was undertaken to reduce the amount of fuel load for the purposes of preventing a potentially high risk wildfire in 2011. This “environmental assessment” includes justification for the project, environmental mitigation measures, environmental impact on vegetation, old growth, botanical, hydrologic, soil, scenery, wildlife, recreational, range, and travel resources. All those specialists at work. Any one area considered to be adversely affected by this project would halt it. Meanwhile, the Lodgepole just has to sit and wait for that fire or beetle outbreak. It can take up to 4 years to complete these studies.

Following the Targhee Revised Forest Plan this 2015 “scoping” document to reauthorize grazing in the Island Park area outlines which cows can graze, where they can graze, and how long they can graze. Grazing can actually be beneficial as it reduces fire hazard overgrowth. This 2010 document for the revised plan proposes keeping old forest growth for habitat.

In this document a final decision was made to expand the Black Canyon Trail. It verifies that a “specialist analysis” was conducted and that at any point in time a project can be shut down for a consultation with a specialist.

A final decision was reached to reduce fuel loads for fire risk reduction in Northern Island park in this 2015 document. Because of an owl, some neighbor opposition, and the possible “disturbance” to some Bald Eagles, the Bootjack area was omitted from fuel hazard reduction. Isn’t it logical that not reducing a fuel hazard will increase the chances of a fire destroying the whole area? If they survive, where will the owl and eagle live then? Or the neighbors? How long will it take for that area to regenerate? Each of these documents follow the same format from initial justification to proving no harm will be done to anything. Hey, what happened to what the lodgepole needs to thrive? With these expanded regulations, at some point, it will become impossible to do anything with our forests. A full list of proposed actions in the Targhee area can be found here.

In 2000, the Idaho Forest Products Commission wrote an article about increasing fires and land management. It wasn’t until the 1970’s when environmental groups entered the picture and pushed the government to leave the forests alone, stop logging, and let the fires burn that the catastrophic destruction of forests began. Up to that point preventing forest fires was the mantra while at the same time effective management practices of logging, thinning, and prescribed burns were standard. Even more appalling, the very practices environmental groups promote paradoxically make forest health worse. Thinning lodgepoles improves the environment by allowing young trees to capture more carbon while removing old growth or dead trees prevents the release of carbon into the air. Fires release vast carbon storage into the air and destroy wildlife homes they so adamantly say they are protecting. Lodgepole overgrowth after a fire chokes out other species and inhibits regeneration of new growth. Not clearing the forest floor of slash prevents new growth while fire hazards are increased in addition to making fires more difficult to contain.

This publication on the Warm Lake fire in 2007 explains it all and provides pictures of a treated forest versus a untreated fire ravaged area, clearly validating practices of fire suppression with other management practices such as reducing fuel loads and forest thinning. Does a garden need to be thinned and weeded? Well, so does the forest.

One last note is the climate change scam that warmer temperatures and less moisture are the cause forest destruction. Well, climate change wasn’t around back in the early 1900’s, the population was less, then why was there so much forest destruction by fire and pests back then? Well, man wasn’t there to take care of the forest, the forest was on its own and left to Mother Nature, the “do nothing” method. As man began to understand forests and management needs, then putting those protections into practice, the forest destruction declined. From what the reader now understands, this National Wildlife Federation video sums up the illogical blame on climate change.

It is understood that forests need to be managed from an approach that protects all habitat and species. But, in doing so, there will be secondary effects that cannot be avoided. Shouldn’t it be the goal to limit, rather than restrict, secondary effects as much as possible while still achieving the goal of maintaining the forest so all species can continue?

Go back, take a minute and think about the lodgepole and its needs. Trees are the foundation of a forest, without them nothing can live. If not protected as a tree, nothing is protected. The USFS, laws, regulations, and environmental groups have made sure the lodgepole is forgotten. The “specialists” mandated by federal laws are being used as pawns in forest destruction.

So, the lodgepole can regenerate without fires, flourish by thinning and letting the sun help new growth while lessening water and other species competition, thrive with a floor clean of debris and slash, and thereby making life more difficult for the beetle to take over but still exist as part of the natural habitat. During periods of warmer weather with less available moisture, if a tree is healthy, it is less stressed.

Part 3 will take a look at other sources of forest destruction besides our own government.

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