SciSun: Can’t see the Forest through the Trees   Leave a comment

Humans, usually, like a green, lush, mysterious forest. Or at least the idea of a forest. Actually venturing into a dark, unknown, and for many frightening wilderness is for many something better viewed from the relative safety of a car while driving down a mountain road. (Although more people die from auto accidents than die in the forest. That doesn’t mean, for the inexperienced, a forest is safer than your car – probably just more people are in cars, than in forests). But today there’s something more frightening within the forest than getting lost, or being attacked by wild animals, or even coming across a nude hippie commune (which, as most hippies are now in their older years, is something you really don’t want to see). What’s most frightening in the forest today, is the forest itself.

The US Forest Service (USFS), is, understandably, responsible for the care and stewardship of much of America’s forest lands – approximately 193 million acres, almost ten percent of all land in the US. Along with the National Park Service; Bureau of Land Management; State forestry departments; Tribal organizations; and private interests, all forested and adjacent land falls under the jurisdiction of some bureau, department, or organization. Through many decades of research, study, discussion, disagreement, controversy, policies made, policies revised, agreements and amendments, today the consensus is…. no one has decided the best way to manage all this land. One of the few things that has been determined is that no one likes forest fires (Smokey was right with that one), and most agencies do their best to, as it’s said, ‘Prevent Forest Fires’ which, has been believed, leads to a full and healthy forest ready for our enjoyment. No one, however, told the trees and other plants to stop growing, and now much of our forests – particularly, as a recent study discovered, forests of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California and Nevada, are so thickly wooded they are, ironically, prone to future fires and total loss of the forest canopy – the strong, tall trees most of us think about when we think about ‘forest’; along with the forest environment itself, including all the other plant and animal species that call the forest their home. And has been shown these past years, forest fires destroy human homes, businesses, and property just a quickly as devastating a stand of old-growth pines.

Sorry, your National Forest is closed for today.

              Sorry, your National Forest is closed for today.

The wildfire season 2015 has set the record for being the most destructive and costly season in history, at almost 10 million acres burned and $1.7 billion dollars in cost for manpower and resources. An ‘achievement’ no one’s celebrating. In fact, the season was so costly there’s virtually no money left to prepare for next fire season, including preparing fire crews; purchasing new and replacement equipment; and possibly most importantly, thinning the already-overgrown woodlands. As part of a long-term management program, a USFS goal is to thin and restore 500,000 acres of forest each year; in theory, once all the land within a specific area is renewed, it will be time to go back and start over with the first 500,000 acres, again. But in short-term reality, each year the Forest Service, along with other agencies, are able to cover only a fraction of their goal due to the almost endless challenges of conservation verses cultivation; development verses protection; recreation verses logging and timber; and most unfortunately of all, lack of money. Throughout this continual balance between public and private, fire has no favorites, and in drought-free years when less than 20 percent of the USFS budget was dedicated to fire prevention and control, the Department estimates that amount will require over two-thirds of its total budget within 10 years.

The land, it’s said, is the only thing that lasts, and throughout its history the United States has, with some notable exceptions, done a commendable job preserving and protecting our unique environments, ecosystems, and species. Yet in a country with trillion-dollar budgets, every year it’s a struggle for the Forest Service; the National Parks; and other public institutions, assigned with the responsibility to conserve our lands for the benefit of all, to find the money to fulfill their jobs. Maybe the Congressmen who control the budgets, can’t see the forest, though the trees.


Michonne Says: That story has a lot of numbers in it. Marmots can count up to 100, but even some of the numbers in this story I don’t understand. But if the numbers have to do with fire it must be scary because there’s nothing more alarmful than fire even hawks or wolves or anything. That’s why it’s best to live around rocks. Fire usually leaves rocks alone.

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