Death of the Western Pine Forests 3

It’s hard to argue that we didn’t fail.

That’s a quote from US Geological Survey ecologist, Craig Allen, commenting for a nice NPR story on our failed stewardship of the pine forests. Craig Allen is exactly right: we have failed – miserably so – as stewards of a great ecological legacy. Our pine forests are burning. In some cases they are burning with such intensity that they will never return. The landscape of the west is being altered by unnatural wildfire.

I have written about the western pine forests before. Over a century of grazing, fire suppression, and mismanagement have taken a toll. Open stands of large, healthy, fire-resistant ponderosa pine have been replaced by unnaturally dense thickets of spindly trees. The frequent, low-intensity fires that for centuries moved through these forests, burning the grasses and maintaining a healthy stand density, have been replaced by extremely hot crown fires that destroy everything in their path.

We know that our forests are unhealthy. They are ahistorical, unnatural, foreign in structure and function. We know this through the study of tree rings, relict systems, soil layers, and historical photographs and written records. We see very clearly that over the past century the forests have undergone a dramatic change. We know these things, yet do nothing. We are paralyzed by the bureaucracies and policies and interest groups and concerned publics that have grown up around the government’s ownership of these forests.

But being hopeless is not a solution. Frankly, it’s not even an option. So in an upcoming post I will offer some policy recommendations for forest and wildfire management so that maybe, just maybe, we can escape this morass in which we find ourselves. Hey, at Free the Commons! we’re never shy about offering suggestions for changing public land law!

(Hat Tip: Ann Althouse. Photo NPR/David Gilkey)

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