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Timber crews should ditch tree-farming ethos

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Regarding your recent cover story on the Healthy Forests Act (HCN, 4/17/06: The war on wildfire): The biggest impediment to legitimate hazard fuels reduction on the Forest Service district where I work (South Park, in central Colorado) is that the project units are laid out and marked by timber personnel.

The main goal of the fuels portion of the National Fire Plan is sustainability of timber stands and associated organisms. This means treatments that enhance resistance to fire, increase the percentage of old growth, and favor wildlife habitat — striving for what are often referred to as "pre-settlement conditions."

Layout and marking to produce this effect requires simultaneous boldness and restraint, and perceptiveness at the landscape scale. However, a typical timber-marking crew member seems to use the "I love this tree, I love this tree not" method, ruminating about "form and vigor," future marketability, etc. The result is a plantation-like eyesore in the near term, and doesn’t move the stand toward the desired future condition.

The answer to this problem appears to be simple: Hazard fuels reduction should be the province of the Forest Service fire program rather than the timber program. This would allow crews trained in the protocols of fuels work, rather than those indoctrinated (at least indirectly) by the timber industry, to do the work mandated by the National Fire Plan. Unfortunately, Forest Service leadership from Washington down to the district level generally lacks the acumen and courage to admit that the standard way of doing business neither cares for the land nor serves the people.

David Howard
Assistant Fire Management Officer (Fuels)
South Park Ranger District
Pike National Forest
Pueblo, Colorado

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