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The Irreplaceable Tree


The Irreplaceable Tree

By Sarah Hyden May 12, 2018

It's time for all of us to start thinking about what a tree really is, because the U.S. Forest Service is planning on cutting out the majority of trees from much of the local Santa Fe National Forest from north of Tesuque through Glorieta ("Protecting what makes Santa Fe special," My View, March 25).

The Forest Service says its primary purpose is to protect communities, the watershed and other values from the effects of fire and post-fire flooding. They believe that fewer trees equals less fire in the forest. That view is not only unproven but is strongly contradicted by recent studies.

A 2016 large-scale study by the Ecological Society of America indicated that thinned forests in the West burn more severely than forests that are left intact.

Jack Cohen, U.S. Forest Service researcher who studied how to protect structures from forest fire, concluded that the only area really relevant to the protection of structures is the 100 foot radius around structures – and the most important thing is to remove fine fuels, not trees.

What's become almost a frenzy to cut trees seems to be mostly an emotional reaction to fear of fire. The public is justifiably afraid of fire because as the climate becomes warmer and drier, fires are increasing. But thinning trees doesn't slow down fires much during hot, dry and windy weather, and those are the severe fires.

It's critical to look at the full cost/benefit analysis and consider what is lost if we allow the Forest Service to cut trees en masse.

Trees are alive. They're an irreplaceable part of the fabric of life. They're thought of in terms of populations by the Forest Service, but each one is a living organism that has value in itself, provides habitat and food to wildlife, keeps the forest cooler, brings moisture into our already too dry environment, and provides sustenance to people who need to find places of peace and connection to the natural world. The forest is life.

If there are too many trees, nature has ways to reduce numbers, and much more intelligently than humans can. Bark beetle, drought stress and natural forest fires are all ways nature thins trees when necessary.

When humans step in and perform large-scale land experiments to "manage" trees, there often are negative consequences – forest ecology becomes unbalanced, wildlife habitat disrupted, soils become compacted and eroded, sediment flows into waterways, and nearby trees that are not cut can become unhealthy and sometimes succumb to insects or disease from the disturbance. These negative effects seem to get worse by the year as the drought increases.

There is a vast disconnect between people who see trees as objects and simply do the math to determine which should be allowed to remain and which should be cut down and chopped up, and those who deeply respect all life. Those who truly respect life say: Do the cost/benefit analysis sincerely and thoroughly, consider what is lost if you cut down large numbers of trees, and if you do remove trees, do it sparingly and only for very strong and site-specific reasons supported by current science.

If we don't speak up now with a massive outcry, the mechanistic view that trees are inanimate and can just be removed if expedient, even if it's based on incomplete and sometimes outdated science and fear, will prevail. We will lose the beautiful Santa Fe National Forest as it currently exists. Much of our beloved forest could become a sterilized wasteland with stumps and bare, eroding soil.

Don't let that happen. Tell the Forest Service to do reasonable due diligence by analyzing the effects of its entire tree cutting and burning program with the completion of an environmental impact statement.

Sarah Hyden is a Santa Fe resident and lives by the Santa Fe National Forest. She does what she can to protect the forest.