The Problem is Lack of Professionalism

A response to the 'We Have a Land Management Problem' editorial by Dale Bosworth, David Mihalic and Ryan Zinke

By George Wuerthner

The editorial written jointly by Dale Bosworth, David Mihalic and Ryan Zinke was a mixed bag (Sept. 7 Beacon: “We Have a Land Management Problem”). I certainly celebrate our public lands as the authors do. Yet the other message that we need to “manage” (read: log) our public lands more demonstrates a singular lack of ecological understanding by the authors.

Part of the problem is the Forest Service does not act professionally and/or rationally (not because it doesn’t have good employees).

Take its growing firefighting budget. If the Forest Service were actually “professional” and “scientific” in its management, it would know (and I think many in the agency do know this) that most wildfires go out without any control at all, so wasting money suppressing these blazes is crazy. Others, burning under extreme fire weather conditions, cannot be controlled. Spending money to suppress such blazes until the weather changes is analogous to dumping dollar bills on the fires, for all the good it can do.

Many in the Forest Service know this, but cannot act rationally due to the false expectations of the public, politicians and others who simply do not understand fire ecology.

Furthermore, we waste a good deal of money fighting fires in remote areas where there is almost no chance of it harming homes and other structures. Indeed, a “scientific” and “professional” approach would be to encourage such fires because in reality (again if you read the science) we have a deficit of large wildfires compared to the past.

Another example of the lack of scientific understanding from the authors is their use of the pejorative word “catastrophic” to describe natural large wildfires and to suggest this “damages” the land. If the authors had spent any time reading the latest science regarding large fires, they would discover that big wildfires are what maintain healthy forest ecosystems.

Episodic wildfires, bark beetles, and so forth are the main factors that create snags and dead wood. These components are critical to many, many species. For instance, half of the birds in the West rely on dead trees at some time in their life.

And logging/thinning can’t stop these large blazes – even if you wanted – because, again, the science shows that climate/weather is what drives such blazes. Any number of reviews have shown that thinning/logging has questionable benefits except in very specific strategic situations. But this is regularly ignored by the “professionals” who are beholden to the timber industry.

Another common and unscientific assertion is that bark beetles will increase wildfires. The science is clear on this – if you used science, you would find that recent research has found that beetle-kill trees typically reduce fire risk. But you will be hard-pressed to find a collaborative that incorporates that science into its thinking or recommendations.

Anything that does not support logging is ignored by collaboratives or downplayed. They exist purely to promote more logging under various guises.

Know the code words. Vegetation management means more logging. Fire hazard reduction means more logging. Hazard tree removal means more logging. Community economic development means more logging. Restoring forest health means more logging. Creating resilience means more logging.

There’s a pattern here. No matter what the problem reall is (and often completely fabricated) the only solution that is advocated is logging. Logging is like magic elixir of the old-time snake oil salesman who convinced naïve people that it could cure arthritics, cancer, kidney stones and almost every other imagined ill.

The authors are correct in that we do need more science in our management. The problem is that science is typically ignored, or cherry-picked to favor more logging.

S,o yes, let’s celebrate our public lands, and be thankful we have them, but bear in mind that commercial interests have been feeding at the public trough for more than a hundred years, and they haven’t disappeared. They just make sure that “professionals” who agree with logging get hired, or are elected.

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