HCN muddies the waters in regard to "chaining" of piûon-juniper woodlands almost as much as Sid Goodloe does (HCN, 4/15/96). Just think of it as deforestation accompanied by profound soil disturbance, habitat aridification and heating due to increased wind velocity and insolation, and destruction of virtually all extant wildlife habitat. On public lands it is a subsidy for marginal agriculture that seldom breaks even in the short run. The long run is even worse for the bottom line, as the trees always come back, and additional clearing is very expensive.
Range managers like it because they cannot abide trees. As sufferers of an occupational hazard I call dendrophobia, they break into cold sweats at the sight of anything that grows large enough to cast a shadow. Because the practice is so discredited, and impossible to justify on the basis of evidence, they resort to a word-of-mouth and gray-literature mythology elevated to the plane of ideology. In so doing, they have made a mockery of their supposedly science-based profession. So have the foresters who have, for reasons of convenience and politics, ceded management of Western woodlands to range managers, the group least capable by training and mindset to deal with them.
The millions of woodland acres that have bowed to the chain and to tree-crushers have been largely ignored by the national environmental organizations, perhaps because small trees on the desert edge lack the charisma that many greenfolk demand in exchange for their expenditure of spiritual capital. The millions of acres of drought-adapted coniferous woodland that we are fortunate to have in the West, and in no other of the world's arid landscapes, are a valuable forest resource in their own right and should be managed as such. They offer far better value than the stringy beef that is squeezed from them, kicking and screaming, after the chains have gone by.
Ronald M. Lanner