Colorado to thin forests

Sep 052002
Authors: Megan Fromm

Debate over the efficiency of forest thinning in Colorado will most likely focus on where and how to implement the procedure, not whether it is necessary, said State Forester Jim Hubbard.

With this summer’s unusually high number of forest fires and the threat they pose to people and property, Hubbard said he thinks most people in Colorado would agree some type of preventative action should be taken.

“I’d say we are lucky,” he said, referring to the enormity of many recent fires and the comparatively small amount of personal property destroyed. “There is a sense of urgency to protect life and property.”

President Bush recently announced a plan to permit more logging in national forests in an effort to curtail the risk of wildfires.

The “Healthy Forest” initiative would require Congress to pass laws designed to accelerate processes related to federal approval of forest thinning and restoration projects. The initiative could also limit the amount of appeals allowed during the process.

“We need to make our forests healthy by using some common sense,” Bush said in a speech Aug. 22 after visiting Oregon lands charred by summer forest fires. “The forest policy of our government is misguided policy. It doesn’t work.”

By revamping current appeals regulations relating to forest policy, Bush said he hopes to keep to a minimum the amount of “red tape” often associated with the management of national forests.

According to CNN, some environmental groups see the initiative as an unnecessary transfer of power to logging industries and a threat to natural habitats.

Ashleigh Rude, a senior biology major, said she could understand an environmentalist’s point of view.

“I think (logging) would be harsh on the environment,” she said. “It’s sad to see the forests depleted, but (in Colorado) we’ve lost a lot of trees. They need to have time to replenish.”

Hubbard said the threat of an out-of-control logging business in Colorado is minute. Colorado does not have a record of supporting a heavy logging industry, and new policies are not likely to create a significant influx of the trade.

To reduce the risk of wildfires, the plan might include controlled burns, tree spacing and underbrush thinning, he said. Because many Colorado residents live or own property in the forest, Hubbard said protecting these lands should be a matter of public policy. However, many residents automatically assume the risk of property destruction by fire when living near forests.

“There is some individual responsibility to mitigate (personal) risk, but that won’t be enough,” he said.

Exactly how the plan will be executed is the most arguable question.

“The debate becomes where and how do you treat to reduce wildfire threat and not harm the environment?” Hubbard said. “I think both can be accomplished.”

The concept of accelerating processes related to logging decisions while adhering to environmental laws should be addressed if the initiative were passed, he said. Forestry officials should take care to note the needs of endangered species and special wildlife communities. However, Hubbard cautions that approving forest management policies too speedily could hinder the public’s right to be heard on such matters.

“If someone feels strongly enough (about a policy), I don’t think we should take away their right to litigate,” he said. “There are going to be some who don’t want to see any change at all.”

In his speech, Bush said concerned citizens would still be able to voice their opinions.

“We’ll make sure that people have their voice but aren’t able to tie it all up,” Bush said.

In the end, Hubbard said he thinks most Coloradans will come to a consensus that wildfires pose a significant threat, even if they cannot decide on the answer.

“If we go about this by recognizing and confirming this is a real issue and needs a solution, the debate will produce the solution,” he said.

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