Encouraging, but no panacea
The story of Sid Goodloe's success in rehabilitating degraded Western rangelands is encouraging. If there were more land stewards with his kind of passion, land ethic, and patience, there would be less controversy in the West and elsewhere. But this is not, nor will it ever be the case, for as Ed Marston points out, his efforts cannot be emulated. Public-land managers too often seek overnight restoration instead of long-term rehabilitation. The rush to judgment on success vs. failure is too often made in the interest of garnering more funds for more projects, and this tendency can easily lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. No matter what the results, the final conclusion will be a "more healthy forest" or rangeland.
There is also danger in this story. The simplistic notion that "presettlement" (I prefer "preindustrial') trees are good and postsettlement trees are bad is gripping the Southwest. This notion is alluring to many land managers because it allows them to "do something." But how different is it from even-aged management, in which old trees are bad and young are good? Why is a tree which germinated in 1865 "good" but a tree which germinated in 1875 "bad'? Is this stewardship or nostalgia? And as we move further from the advent of an industrial landscape, implementation of nostalgic visions will only result in the omission of entire age classes of woody vegetation from future landscapes.
The idea that today's piûon-juniper woodlands were all savannahs and grasslands is also deceiving. For example, early travelers passing through the Flagstaff area along the 35th parallel described thickets of brush. The 1850 Beale expedition described country "so heavily covered with cedar and piûon that our progress was constantly retarded." In other words, piûon-juniper coverage may very well be, in some areas, within the recent range of historical variability. Sid Goodloe may have options for a few areas, but there is no basis to pursue those options at the scale he proposes. We don't need to embrace the other side of the coin; we need to use all the spare change at hand.
Happy Jack, Arizona