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The PJ Tatler

by
John Ruberry

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July 19, 2012 - 2:14 pm

It has become an often familiar refrain. Every summer, there is another massive wildfire permeating through one, or several, of America’s forests. At one point or another, the fires have resulted from arsonists, drought or the simple missteps of campers lacking expertise in campfire management.

Root causes aside, it is inarguable that the double-edged sword of bureaucracy and single-minded activists have hamstrung America’s forests, sidelining proper forest management techniques.

The most disastrous fires often take their heaviest toll on forest land owned by the federal government, yet these blazes are often put into check once reaching private land. The distinction here lies in a simple formula: the prodding of activists has, in all too typical fashion, led the government to clamp down on federally-held forest land in such a way that it sets back proper management by hundreds of years. Ed Farnan, in IrishCentral, decried the policy of “restoring our forests to their former pre-mankind condition, man was taken out of the equation.”

The government has subsequently made forestry care an expensive task mired with red tape.

For an example, some have noted the “mega fire” that ensued around the Lake Tahoe basin around the California and Nevada border. With the land managed by what would appear a never ending stream of government bureaucracies and agency careerists, property owners were prohibited from even cleaning brush residing on their property by hand. The flames rose and subsumed 250 homes and 3,000 acres, largely due to management practices that opened the door for the fire to spread easily.

When left to property owners, the results speak clearly in showing that forests are often better cared for while doors are still opened to timber harvesting. Why? A vested interest in maintaining a healthy environment is a clear winner, not sidelining responsibility and endangering lives for the sake of activists’ wishes that forests return to prehistoric conditions.

In a recent New York Times piece, Paul Schwennesen, a south Arizona cattle rancher, not to mention Harvard grad, summed it up on point in saying that “there is no force on earth likely to breed sustainable management than the vested interested in owning the results of your actions.”

However, the Schwennesen-termed “professionals” and unelected bureaucrats continue to run roughshod over private management, impeding proper management capabilities for the sake of appeasement at a higher price. Costs of harvesting timber are continually proving too high and have made it “cheaper in some southwestern states to import lumber from as far away as New Zealand than to harvest and manufacture it locally.”

Certification discrimination for forests further compounds the problem. Though it has been made repeatedly clear that the majority of private forest owners prefer subscribing to Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) standards for certification, as opposed to those of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), government regulations continually stonewall owners with a clear and present preference to FSC’s standards, whose stamp of approval further ramps up costs. Even worse, the unelected bureaucrats behind LEED certification standards have chosen to only recognize FSC forests as certifiable.

Factor in the increased costs of FSC standards with the fact that 90% of FSC lands are located outside of North America, and the albatross of government’s impeding on proper forest care only rises.

Not only is the vicious cycle of idiocy taking its toll on America’s forests and endangering property owners, but add putting Americans out of work to the list, as well.

Logging jobs pay well and many communities near federally-owned forests are suffering a double hit: a stubborn recession that has severely hobbled the construction industry, coupled with federal policies that cater to environmentalists. A balanced-approach is needed, one that takes into consideration the people who live near the forests–and of course the economic well-being of the entire nation. Looking at the United States Forest Service web site, you learn that Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the USFS, said the goal of the agency was “to provide the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people in the long run.” Or, as a Forest Service ranger in Utah told me a couple of years ago, “These are lands of many uses.”

Markets for locally grown wood are, for lack of a better term, extinguished as forests are transformed into conditions that make wildfires, such as the mammoths witnessed this year, an even greater likelihood.

The currently charted course is not shielding homeowners from risk or allowing for proper remedies. Large forests and larger price tags naturally lead to a denser environment, full of dried timber. As such, the board is set for wildfires of a greater intensity that would naturally be necessary, were humans allowed to actually acknowledge their role in nature’s process.

John Ruberry is a Morton Grove, Illinois-based writer and blogger.
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