Proper forest management, logging could have saved some Grand County trees
February 12, 2008
To the Editor:
Various newspapers have carried articles lately about the devastation that mountain pine beetles have caused to Colorado’s forests. Professionals estimate that the state’s lodgepoles may be wiped out in five years by the beetle. That scenario is already almost fact in some counties.
Drought, warmer weather in our region, and the advanced age of the forests have created ideal conditions for pine beetles (and spruce beetles) to thrive.
The articles neglected to mention, however, that the bugs could have been stopped in some areas. Many trees could have been saved with proper forest management.
Years ago, the U.S. Forest Service actually managed forests, taking out some trees so that others would better withstand fire or epidemics and creating stands of varying-aged trees. It was called “logging.”
When ever-present beetles started to proliferate, the agency acted quickly. Loggers would remove beetle-hit trees before the insects flew out of them, and they would thin surrounding trees. Such thinning enabled remaining trees to receive larger shares of light, water, and nutrients. Just as people can better fight off “bugs” when they’re healthy, healthy trees can better resist insects and disease.
Then environmentalists convinced the public and our politicians that cutting trees was akin to murder, and the Forest Service, always subject to public and political pressure, began a policy of “non-management.”
By the time the public realized that, “Oops! Our trees are all dying” and began to understand that perhaps some trees should be harvested, it was too late. Once the beetles reach the enormous populations that exist today, only unseasonable or extreme cold can stop them ” or a lack of green trees to hit.
And now that people want to clear the dead trees off their properties, they find that instead of being paid for their trees, they’re having to pay for the removal. There are few places to sell the logs because in the last two decades, mills across the West have closed ” for lack of raw material. If we had harvested enough to keep mills viable, they could process the dead trees today.
Conversely, if we’d harvested that much, the epidemic would likely have been stopped 15 years ago, before it got to this point.
The talk of building new sawmills and biomass mills has remained just that ” talk.
Few people want to make such long-term investments when 10 years from now a misinformed public may once again decide that it doesn’t want trees cut.
Yes, our forests will grow back. But it will take decades, and in the meantime, we will live with dead trees, increased risks of catastrophic fires, and degraded vistas and wildlife habitat. It could all have been avoided, or at least minimized, if we had continued to manage our trees instead of letting nature manage by killing them all.