The Nov. 21 article "A Bear in the Woods" (by Lee Green) is a litany of errors, misunderstandings and distortions. It misses the point about national forest management today.
Most Americans want the same things from their national forests and grasslands: clean air, clean water, habitat for wildlife, beautiful scenery and plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation. As a forester and conservationist, I want those things too. We can't have them unless we focus on the real threats to the nation's forests and grasslands. The real threats come from fire and fuels (which include brush and small-diameter trees), invasive species, loss of open space and unmanaged recreation.
Two of the last four years have brought America's biggest fire seasons since the 1950s, and five states have seen record-breaking fires. Dozens of lives have been lost, thousands of homes destroyed and many critical habitats for wildlife decimated. Overgrown forests are fueling fires that are far more severe than ever before. The trick is to reduce the fuels and restore something resembling the original forest condition.
Invasive species are like a slow-moving plague that permanently destroys our native ecosystems. All invasives combined cost Americans about $138 billion per year in total economic damages and associated control costs. The ecological costs are even worse. One study has found that invasives have contributed to the decline of almost half of all imperiled species.
Every day, America loses more than 4,000 acres of working farms, forests and ranches to development. That's about 3 acres per minute. In some areas, forest cover is declining; in others, forests are fragmenting and deteriorating. We're losing valuable corridors and natural areas that many plants and animals need to survive.
In many places, rising recreational use is outstripping our management capacity and damaging resources, particularly the unmanaged use of off-highway vehicles. OHVs are a legitimate use of public lands, but without better management, they can rut trails, erode hills, degrade wetlands and destroy sensitive meadows.
In view of these threats, today's Forest Service is focusing on ecological restoration and outdoor recreation. We fight fire where we must, and we're very good at it--we quickly suppress 99% of the fires we attack. But we also use fire where we can to restore fire-adapted ecosystems. In 2004, prescribed fire accounted for more than three-quarters of the fuels and forest health treatments we accomplished with our federal partner agencies. Those treatments covered 4.2 million acres, an area three times the size of Delaware--about 2 1/2 times more than in 2000.
But we can't do it alone. The scale of what we face is simply too great. We need help from a public that is caring and concerned, yet some people are stuck in spurious debates over logging and road building. These are huge distractions from the real threats we face today--fire and fuels, invasive species, loss of natural areas and unmanaged outdoor recreation.
I believe that we need a vigorous national debate over the values that matter, the goals we all share and the real threats that place them at risk.
USDA, Forest Service
Stories such as Green's strike a chord that is mostly heard by the choir. If a few million of us expressed genuine outrage over government and corporate abuse of our land, we might halt the rescinding of protective legislation that has become the reckless passion of the Bush administration. The U.S. Forest Service needs to be impeached, or rather clear-cut.
The tragedy of decades of mindless destruction of old-growth forests is as profound and criminal as the ongoing poisoning of our water and air, but the average citizen doesn't get it unless they've been personally hit over the head with the consequences. Walking through an ancient stand of trees is like treading on hallowed ground; it is humbling and enlightening. There is a precious handful of people who work to protect the few trees that are left. They need our voices and our help. It's not a tree-hugger thing; it's a life and death thing.