THIN LEADERSHIP ON THINNING OF OUR NATIONAL FORESTS
Fortunately or unfortunately history often repeats itself. Unfortunately for our national forests, and a significant part of rural America a huge mistake is being repeated and the prices paid by these two entities are almost immeasurable. The United States Forest Service is making this mistake. The damage done will last beyond this century.
Showcasing the scientifically proven silviculture tool of 'thinning' as the end all and be all of national forest management and policy formation, is the profound mistake that the United States Forest Service is making.
Thinning is one of the many tools which should be used to manage forests. Any credible forester will tell you that. It's fairly straightforward; you remove some of the younger, smaller trees so the others will have enough room and nutrients to grow. Later these larger trees (saw timber) can and should be removed for a number of excellent reasons. On those areas of each national forest where it is legal to harvest, these are some of the management activities that should occur.
However, thinning is only one part of the large array of tools that should be used to successfully regenerate timber stands. Thinning to a professional forester does not necessarily mean only smaller trees and brush! To use this one word in such a limited fashion to openly discuss forest management leads the public to think that harvesting smaller trees is the only legitimate action that should be allowed on a national forest. "Thinning only" discussions deteriorate into harvesting of big trees vs. little trees. The resource suffers because of the other 'right things' that will not be done at the 'right time' for our forests.
It also creates a negative debate and polarization. Neither of these "group dynamics" make for a more forest literate public or healthy trees. The public cannot come to a clear and science based understanding of forest management issues when the USFS gives them only one word, which is only partly defined, with which to 'understand'.
The USFS made this same huge mistake when they tried several years ago to "BEG" their way back into the forests under their stewardship with the one word i.e., salvage. This failed message came across to the public as we (USFS) just want to remove dead material to reduce fire risk, and we call this salvage.
Again, one word does not leadership make! Neither can the USFS produce a clear understanding or healthy trees and watersheds with one management word in the tool box.
This salvage discussion deteriorated into public arguments and an array of lawsuits centering around the harvesting of green trees or dead trees.
While we lost precious time in political posturing and debate over this "BEG WORD" millions of more trees died, habitat was degraded and the fire risk soared.
Now, all we seem to hear from the USFS is 'thinning, thinning, thinning'. The USFS seems to be saying .just let us thin our forests, that's all we want to do. Just let us get to those small trees and we'll be able to solve the fire and health risk problems that are consuming millions of acres of our forest landscape.
My message to the USFS is that .you know better than this. As professionals you know that the term thinning includes big, medium, little trees of various age classes. You know that intellectual honesty calls for you to explain to the public that insects and disease attack big and little trees. Some of all must come down. Your current public message is leading the public to think the USFS wants to thin only smaller size trees and the clearing of brush.
As importantly, the USFS should not be ashamed to promote the correctness of harvesting perfectly healthy trees for the consumers' needs.
The United States Forest Service should not be ashamed to say this. Leadership demands that you not insult the American public by not laying out the facts about what must be done. As an agency, you will never turn the tide of public understanding by engendering ignorance in the public which is what you are doing because you are too "uncomfortable and intimidated" by the extreme environmentalists to stand up and lead the way out of this quagmire.
Anemic leadership by the USFS on this issue will only worsen the situation in our forests and in the public arena. If ever future generations needed the once premier leadership skills of this agency it is now. The question at hand is, will you do what you once did best, LEAD?