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COMMENTARY: Managing Our Own Destruction

Whether by stupidity or intention,
 we must learn to manage our outdoor resources

Over too many years we have engaged in the battle of outdoor conservation journalism.  That is, we have advocated for clean streams and rivers including those in which we fish, for professionally managed forests that see such massive acreage as wildlife habitat preserved for our kids, your kids, and their kids, as well as those industries that tap the West’s vast unpopulated acreage for its economic benefits as well as its preservable treasures.

The continued health of all that is easily summed up in a single word, ‘management.’ Some Never Trumpers were recently whisked into a spin when, following one of the President’s massive rallies that included concerns over the wildfires in California, Oregon and Washington, Trump let slip (intentionally, we suggest) that we have to do a better job ”managing” the forests.

Because such pronouncements do not usually spark raging discussions among ‘environmentalists’ and conservationists it is difficult to blame ignorance on the lack of paying attention to what’s going on in the world around them.

But let us try.

In an earlier day, we took up the rhetorical arms of hunters who watched pristine forest being slashed to oblivion for the purpose of producing enough lumber for the 1970-1990 housing boom.  The tree ‘mine’ was easily found in our national forests in all the western states. Mountain areas in particular held the most potential lumber but access was not just limited but in most cases had little to no possible access. The solution to that problem was to literally go into a forest, mow down some trees and scrape out a rock-filled road. Once accomplished, teams of lumberjacks and lumber trucks first penetrated the easily accessible walls of a national forest, went in and began choosing trees to cut down. Their supervisors didn’t just pick any tree, they picked the best trees that would provide the most lumber without debranching since that timber was easier to cut, load and transport. Once the plotted ground was arbitrarily picked, piles of slash were left while the teams of timber cutters moved on to the next forests.

In those early days the environmental crowd became not just pests but potential killers of the timber cutters.  One dangerous tactic was to hammer spikes into target trees that, when the cutter’s chainsaw blades hit the spikes the chain would break and fly into the cutters’ face.

Basically, there are two major  methods of obtaining trees for commercial use, clear cutting and selective cutting. Much of the early timber harvests came from private land until it became more economical to acquire permits from the Department of Interior for cutting on public lands.

Suffice it to say that there have been many court battles between the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Sierra Club and similar preservation groups and their commercial opposites.

But when the problem became exacerbated the outdoor recreation community got involved. Hunters and fishermen joined the fray with their own interests which also brought along the entire outdoor industry in one form or other.

Lawsuits were rampant for awhile but when some of them  from the outdoor groups succeeded, commercial interests began to back off.  At the same time, federal land managers with the USFS and BLM began setting and/or changing ground rules. High on the list was that one word we certainly never thought we’d hear Trump say:  “management.”

Management of our wildlife resources have brought us greater – and manageable – populations of deer and such other big game as elk, antelope, bears, moose, mountain goats and sheep, and both upland birds and waterfowl . Management of rivers and lakes have kept anglers fishing for more, happily, while providing time together for families.

The West has been ravaged this year by wildfires that have become historic. Had some of those burned areas allowed either clear or selective cutting – both are beneficial processes that, when done ‘according to Hoyle’ – elimination of old growth trees and shrubs and dry grass and bushes – could have helped prevent the disasters that burned so many homes and left so many people and their pets distressed.

Similarly, Australia sources reported ‘millions’ of wildlife perished during last year’s massive blazes there. Thus, while we’ve not yet seen the body count of burning animals from our own west coast fires there’s little doubt that we’ve lost hundreds to thousands of wildlife in that area.

Yes, states have an obligation to reduce dead foliage on its lands.  Yes, federal agencies have the same obligation to repeat the process on the massive acres under their control.  And, yes, private property owners besieged and beset by old growth vegetation including trees have a similar responsibility.

“Management,” as President Trump said, is the only way to preserve the West’s high mountain and low desert country. Do that, control the spread of commercial land developments that simply strip hill country of its protective shield, reduce overgrown forested communities and we might have a chance to avoid future flaming conflagrations that destroys our wildlife and its habitat.

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