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Government Policy or Pandering

 

For some this year, fire season began long ago. For others, it’s been delayed until now. There are fires already raging in some areas. We just had one roaring through a portion of East Glacier Park a couple of weeks ago.

For most people forest and grass fires are news items at 5 or 6, and if it’s big enough, it will make the CNN lineup of stories complete with pics. That’s the nature of the news media today. It’s that way because, I think, today’s modern American just doesn’t have the time to devote any real concern to such short lived events.

Whether a fire takes out an entire national park, however, does affect me. Especially if that park is Glacier or Yellowstone since I live next to one and used to live just outside the other.

Now, I remember well the Yellowstone fire of 1989. I remember so well because I moved to Montana shortly after the forest service got that fire under control. Also, the next year I spent time there with a college studies group doing a bio excursion to study the lasting effects of that fire one year later.

Last week, when my sister and I went to Glacier’s North Fork, she managed to get some good pics of the results of the 2001 and 2003 fires that each whipped through the park for weeks.

                                    

Tens of thousands of square acres burned and left behind the ghosts of forests to remind us that such events must take place to produce viable replacements for trees and undergrowth that have reached maturity.

The Forest Service managed to learn with the Yellowstone fire that such events must be allowed to burn unless they threaten urban areas. For many species of trees and other plants, fire is the only means of replication, procreation, or reproduction. That’s right– burn to give birth to another.

The reason is terribly simple. Some conifers bear cones that hold themselves so tightly closed that only fire allows them to relax enough to pop open and release the seeds that will form new trees. Lodge pole pine is one example. Redwood is another. If the forest is not allowed a periodic burn, the trees weaken, become diseased, and die out. Later, after a naturally sparked fire rolls through, new growth takes over and produces a new forest.

Having said all of that and knowing the whys of things, I still have one glaring question. Why doesn’t the service allow conscientious logging to remove the majority of the standing dead trees to give adequate room to emerging new trees. Such clearing out could also reduce the amount of live trees taken from other forests to provide building lumber. I say that because the heart of such tree is still viable for use as a wood product.

I was curious to know the answer, so I called the Park Service up at Glacier to find out why the policy stands as it is. This is what they told me in a nutshell.

Once the fire is out and the land begins to cool and settle down, it’s the Park Service ecological policy that:

1. Logging of any form is forbidden to take place within the confines of such a park. Heck, you can’t even gather loose firework for your campfire.

2. Logging activities change the surrounding landscape. (That is true. Logging can really scar the terrain.)

3. Standing dead timber is used by various wildlife species as new homes, food, etc. (This is true, too.)

4. Too much disruption of established habitat occurs in the face of logging. (This is also true. But, the same came be said for logging anywhere and has, but no real alternative has been brought forth.)

Don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not advocating logging the National Parks. That wasn’t my point. I was simply curious why–in today’s economic downturn and knowing the government’s need for more money–the government holds true to the park policies established so long ago.

For me, it’s refreshing to witness said government actually honoring an agreement from the past. But in it’s own way, it brings me to a couple of even greater questions.

Question #1: Concerns park forests. For more than a decade now, the pine borer beetle has been wreaking havoc in conifer forests across the western U.S. It hit Arizona in the 1990’s. New Mexico got hit shortly thereafter. (I’m using those states I was living in at the time as a timeline here.) When we moved to Oklahoma in 2003, it seemed to follow us, because by 2006 it had shown up there, too. And no, we weren’t accidentally transporting it.

In the Pac Northwest, forests have been fighting the battle of the beetle as long or longer. The beetle bores under the bark, sucking the juices out, reproducing, etc. until the tree dies. The devastation moves quickly through standing timber. The end result looks much like a burn area. The results are the same. Stands of dead trees, but these trees harbor a killer beetle.

As far as I can tell, those trees aren’t removed either. So, the question becomes, will there come a time when the beetle has been allowed to win the battle, destroy all the forests only to move on, leaving  telephone poles in its wake?

Question #2: This is a question more about the government than the forest service. If burn areas in the national parks are kept as they are because of ecological reasons and designs, why is the government proposing drilling activities in Denali within the Alaskan wilderness? That’s protected land, too. The only conclusion I can come to is that OIL production is so much more important to coffers everywhere than standing dead timber that the question of policy becomes a moot one for Alaskan ecology.

Please, correct me if I’m wrong here in my impressions. I really would like to know about these things. In fact, I’m waiting to talk to a representative of Glacier Park to get the skinny on why, where, how, and when concerning both burns and bugs.

That’s it for now, folks. Try back again later to discover my newest question of the day. And as soon as I find out some more answers to the questions above, I’ll let everyone know what they are. I promise. It all affects us in the end.

A bientot,

Claudsy

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