Letter: Tree-cutting on Frying Pan not necessary
December 9, 2016
In Molly Pitt's recent letter ("Healthy forests outweigh short-term inconvenience in Basalt," Dec. 7, The Aspen Times) lecturing residents of the Fryingpan Valley and Basalt that hundreds of logging-truck trips are in their best interest, she identified herself as representing an entity called Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities in Salida. A healthy forest is a matter of definition and readers would be better served if Pitts had revealed that her definition of forest health is colored by her employment with the Intermountain Forests Association instead.
The Upper Fryingpan Vegetation Management Project's primary purpose is to meet timber targets assigned by Congress. To its credit, the White River National Forest has been very upfront about that. Pitts ignores this, preferring the spin that active human intervention in forest ecosystems is how forest health is achieved. Citing a tree farmer's language that the forest is overmature, she defaults to the tired timber industry tactic of spreading fear of widespread insects and disease.
A historically unprecedented mountain pine beetle epidemic, triggered by unprecedented climate-change-induced droughts in the early 2000s, swept through lodgepole pine forests across the West. Colorado saw 30 to 90 percent mortality across 4.5 million acres. But, somehow the "overmature lodgepole forests" in the Upper Fryingpan so susceptible to "widespread insect infestation and disease" managed to escape this event unscathed.
That they did is a testament to the Roaring Fork watershed's diverse, healthy forests. We've seen this before. The hair-on-fire group, For the Forest, tried to convince us that we needed to cut down the forests in the Hunter-Smuggler area to save them. Their dire predictions, buttressed by cherry-picked science, proved misguided.
A widely accepted definition of forest health is tied to the Historic Range of Variability. In this, variability is key. Forests aren't static but experience regenerative disturbances like fire, insects, disease and blowdowns at natural background rates that researchers coined the Historic Range of Variability. The White River National Forest subalpine spruce-fir forests are incredibly long-lived, with fire return intervals on the order of 250 to 500 years, periods much greater than the 100 or so years of fire suppression that's so altered lower elevation forests like the Front Range's ponderosa pine. In fact, our subalpine forests are within their Historic Range of Variability, meaning they are healthy and don't require active human intervention to make them so.
The congressionally mandated timber targets driving the project are at levels inappropriate for a recreation-dominated forest like the White River. Current levels are hangovers from the height of the beetle epidemic, levels set and met to deal with the hazard tree problem. The epidemic is over but the elevated targets remain.
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Wilderness Workshop is having a robust, transparent and healthy dialogue with the White River National Forest about this project. We greatly appreciate the agency's candor and openness. There are portions of the project we reluctantly agree to and portions we find objectionable. Nonetheless, we trust that our healthy, local conversations will bring us all closer together.
Outside rhetoric from the timber industry adds little light, only heat. When you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. When you have a chainsaw …
Executive director, Wilderness Workshop