Skip to comments.KYL: Environmental activists place forests at risk
Posted on 06/26/2002 10:30:26 AM PDT by dittomom
Arizona has lost more acres to wildfire this year than any other state in the nation except Alaska. The "Rodeo-Chediski" fire, one of the worst disasters ever to hit our state, has displaced families, destroyed property and wildlife habitats and decimated large portions of our forests. It will take a century to fully recover.
Compounding this tragedy is the knowledge that we could have prevented much of it. Federal officials have known for years what needs to be done to protect our forests. For almost a decade, I have promoted ecological forest management, including thinning to protect our forests from wildfires and reduce their severity.
Unfortunately, efforts to manage our forests to prevent fires meet staunch opposition from some radical environmental groups that oppose any human alteration of what they believe is the natural state of the forests.
But our forests today are not in their natural state. Years of overgrazing and fire suppression have changed large well-spaced tree landscapes to a landscape featuring billions of small trees. In 1876, for example, the area that later became the Kaibab National Forest contained 36 to 81 trees per acre. A century later, the number of trees skyrocketed fiftyfold to as many as 1,800 per acre. These consist mostly of stunted trees that take soil nutrients and moisture away from the larger, preferred trees and contribute to fire danger.
Centuries ago, fires occurred naturally and stayed low to the ground. The fires would burn out disease-prone, smaller trees and underbrush, enabling healthier, fuller trees and grasses to grow.
By thinning forests, we can return them to the state nature intended. With fuels removed, natural fires periodically would clear the forest of debris without destroying everything in the forest. We would effectively do on a massive scale what many of us do to our own gardens: root out unhealthy growth to allow other plants to flourish.
Arizona has seen the benefits of this program, including parts of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation and areas around Mount Trumbull. But radical environmental groups continue to stymie good management. According to the U.S. Forest Service, as many as 5,000 legal actions are currently pending that the agency must respond to, most brought by so-called environmental activists.
Nearly 40 percent of the Forest Service's resources are devoted to regulatory compliance, anticipating legal battles and fighting lawsuits already pending.
Take, for example, what happened at the Coconino National Forest, according to published reports. In 1996, in an effort to prevent a fire outbreak, park officials attempted to implement a forest-thinning program in an area near the habitat of a single goshawk nest. Environmental groups protested the action and were able to stop it. Later that same year, a crown fire burned through the forest, engulfing the very tree that housed the bird they were trying to protect, destroying the goshawk's habitat along with thousands of acres of other trees.
Now these radicals are singing a different tune. One prominent local representative of a national environmental group told The Republic this week that they actually support forest thinning. But the thinning that some of these groups support is minimal, strictly limited to the most narrow bands of trees and centered exclusively near homes, not the greater forest. Such limited, haphazard thinning actually can make the situation worse by creating more air pockets in which fuels can ignite. The 5,000 legal actions pending against the Forest Service belie their claims of support for responsible forest management.
It is time to get serious about protecting our forests. The plans are in place.
Environmental advocates, who now are quickly voicing support for thinning, have the chance to put their newfound commitment to the test. They should drop legal actions immediately and endorse the forest-thinning research under way at places such as Northern Arizona University.
Arizona has lost so much this week. It would be tragic and irresponsible if we fail to learn from this catastrophe before more forests are put at risk.
Jon Kyl, a Republican, is a U.S. senator from Arizona.
It reminds one of the same, mind-numbed, Jane Fonda-esque thought process that, at one time, strongly endorsed nuclear power, then started singing a different tune later.
Liberalism should be officially designated as deadly, communicable disease!
This Coloradoan is praying for you! I thought Hayman was bad until I saw and heard about the MONSTER burning in your state.
You have a great man in Kyl and I'm sure that we're going to see some real changes in the way our forests are managed in the future....in your state and ours.