Bad forest policy


In a paranoid response to publicity over the recent dramatic increase in severity of wildland and interface fires, there’s a lot of forest thinning going on in a misguided attempt to reduce fire danger (“Lost in the Woods,” HCN, 9/1/14). In the 1970s, when we were thinning the Southwestern forests, I’d probably killed about a quarter-million trees before I realized that we were doing more harm than good. The more enlightened districts are turning to fire rather than chainsaws to get the job done, but it’s the wrong job. Most of them still don’t understand how different today’s forests have become, due predominately to logging, thinning and climate change.

The U.S. Forest Service policy of one basic, universal method of thinning has resulted in the conversion of billions of dollars of what could have been tall, straight, valuable timber, into low-quality, sometimes almost worthless, overgrown bushes, and in many cases has resulted in a substantial increase in fire danger. Most of what we logged and thinned in the Southwest 30 to 50 years ago has recently been consumed by large, intense stand-replacement fires: the Rodeo-Chedeski in 2004, the Bear in 2006, the Wallow in 2011, the Whitewater-Baldy in 2012, the Rim Fire in 2013, and numerous smaller fires.

Most types of forest are not steady-state ecosystems. They have a distinct birth, life and death. Inappropriate thinning of a young forest is like feeding growth hormones and steroids to children to make them grow up faster. You don’t get what you’re hoping for.

Bob Stockdale
Silver City, New Mexico