Be For The Forest
SANTA FE NEW MEXICAN - MY VIEW
Be for the forest
By Sarah Hyden Jan 13, 2018
On Nov. 5, George Wuerthner, author of 38 books on forest ecology and natural history, gave a talk about wildfire and forest health, sponsored by the Santa Fe Forest Coalition. I want to thank George and every one of the many people involved with the event, including all the people who cared enough about the Santa Fe National Forest to come out on a Sunday afternoon to hear this important talk.
The U.S. Forest Service and other public and private organizations are proposing to do extreme mechanical thinning, often 90 percent of trees, along with prescribed burning on 107,000 acres of the Santa Fe National Forest from north of Tesuque to Pecos — an area they call the Greater Santa Fe Fireshed. Not every acre will be treated, but since the project sizes are proposed to be 10,000 to 20,000 acres each, much of the fireshed likely will be treated.
Many people who live in forest communities or go into the forest for hiking and other recreation are appalled by the environmental damage that past thinning and prescribed burning fuel treatments have caused — the eroding and barren forest floor, and the lack of remaining wildlife and wildlife habitat. The extensive thinning and prescribed burning leaves so much damage in its wake that some believe it may permanently alter and damage the ecology of the Santa Fe National Forest.
Newer research indicates that these thinning/prescribed burning fuel treatments do not significantly reduce fire risk or severity. A major study done in 2016 titled "Does increased forest protection correspond to higher severity fire in frequent-fire forests of the western United States?" indicates that Southwestern forests that are protected, i.e. left intact, burn less often and less severely than forests where logging, mechanical thinning and prescribed burning have been done — that forest fuel treatments may actually increase, not decrease fire risk. And at a high environmental cost.
During his talk, Wuerthner explained that fire, including high intensity fire, is a natural part of Western forest ecology, and many species of animals and plants depend on periodic fires coming through and creating beneficial types of habitat and soil conditions. Also, that the warming and drying trend that is occurring is primarily responsible for fires, not the density of trees, and we can't thin or prescribed burn our way out of fire risk. In fact, disrupting the tree canopy by thinning out the majority of trees causes forests to dry out, making fire risk greater, and when a fire does break out, wind can fan the flames in a more open forest, causing the fire to burn hotter. Areas of the forest may not naturally burn for decades to centuries. The best thing we can do is protect structures and other important valuables by fire-proofing immediately around those areas.
Although I am very heartened by the large turnout at Wuerthner's talk, we need much more public involvement and help protecting our forest. We, the rightful owners of the Santa Fe National Forest, are responsible for its future. Start by telling the U.S. Forest Service and elected representatives that the public must be fully included in the fireshed project; due diligence must be done and an environmental impact statement completed.
A YouTube video of Wuerthner's talk is available at santafeforestcoalition.org. Please watch it, look at the photos of past forest thinning projects and read the informative research articles.
Sarah Hyden lives by the Santa Fe National Forest and does what she can to help protect the forest.