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Old 06-19-2003, 06:53 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Threats to Forest Health - #4 Unmanaged Recreation

This opinion article sounds real sensible until he hits on his #4 threat to forest health.....

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Four-part plan - Forest Service focuses on quartet of threats to habitat health


Wildfire season is upon us. Some 30,000 Forest Service employees (me included) hold our collective breath. We fervently hope this year will not be a repeat of last year - when wildfires burned 7.2 million acres destroyed more than 2,000 buildings, devastated wildlife habitats and ecosystems, degraded vital watersheds, consumed some $1.6 billion in fire-fighting expenses and cost the lives of 23 firefighters.

Thousands of firefighters successfully suppressed more then 99 percent of the fires quickly, before they could do much damage. But some 610 fires got too big, too quickly, wreaking havoc throughout several western states.

Two years earlier, the story was similar: Wildfires burned some 8.4 million acres in 2000 - the largest area in 50 years.



Analysis by Forest Service researchers shows that four factors determine the extent and intensity of forest fires: abundance of fuel, weather, lack of moisture and terrain. We have the ability to influence only one of those in a meaningful way: By reducing available fuel, we can significantly modify the behavior and severity of wildfires.

Some 73 million acres of national forests are still considered at risk for catastrophic fire, as are some 300 million acres of state and private lands. Western forests that historically supported a few dozen large trees per acre now struggle with hundreds of trees per acre.

Overcrowding stresses trees, blocks sunlight, reduces water and nutrients, and aids the spread of harmful insects and disease. And overcrowding can turn what might have been an ecologically beneficial, low-intensity ground fire into an ecologically catastrophic, high-intensity "crown fire."

Such fires generate extreme temperatures that kill trees, totally destroy habitat, scorch the earth and degrade watersheds. Such fires are impossible to control until weather or terrain slow their advance - or until they run out of forest.

The Forest Service, along with other government agencies and some environmental groups, has carried out forest-thinning operations for several years. The efficacy of thinning was evident after last year's fires. Many thinned areas survived as viable forest habitat while unthinned areas looked like scorched moonscapes. The fires proved a simple truth: Sometimes to protect a forest you have to remove a few trees.

Preserving and restoring forest health is not a political gimmick. Based on what he's seen in nearly four decades in the agency, the chief of the Forest Service, Dale Bosworth, has ranked the four most serious threats to forest health. And he has made it clear to managers throughout the Forest Service that he expects us to assign high priority to reducing these threats.

Not surprisingly, the first threat is fire and the dangerous and unprecedented build-up of fuels in many of our forests.

The second threat comes from invasive plants, insects and diseases. Invasive plants can drastically alter habitat and make it unsuitable for native wildlife. Insects and diseases threaten to weaken or kill trees on millions of acres of forest.

The third threat is forest fragmentation. Every day 4,000 acres of open space are lost to development. When development borders forests, the impact is especially great on wildlife.

The fourth threat is unmanaged recreation - especially the off-road use of vehicles. Each year, this unmanaged use creates hundreds of miles of "unplanned" roads and trails. They cause erosion, degrade watersheds and destroy habitat.

These threats are serious. The Forest Service's commitment to dealing with them is real.

At the Forest Service's Forest Products Laboratory, where I serve as director, high-priority projects address the first three of those threats. (As a science and engineering laboratory, we can't do much about unauthorized off-road vehicle use.)

The lab's researchers have worked for some time to develop practical uses for small-diameter trees and forest undergrowth material in order to make thinning economically feasible by offsetting costs of thinning operations. Among the technologies and applications we've developed or encouraged are:

n Using small-diameter timber in construction. This spring, the citizens of Darby broke ground for a new library incorporating small-diameter round timber for trusses.

n Using engineered wood products in wood-frame home building.

n Combining wood fiber with recycled plastic to create composite materials used in windows and doors, signs, roofing, exterior siding and automotive parts.

n Using wood fibers to make inexpensive filters for streams polluted by run-off from mines or farms. Juniper, which has invaded grasslands and degraded habitat, is highly suitable as a filter medium.

n Using waste wood chips or sawdust as fuel to generate electricity.

Our researchers are also exploring ways to produce ethanol from forest biomass and to improve processes for making paper that use less water and less energy and would permit the use of mixed wood species.

Each of those projects could expand the market for small trees and other small forest material. This would encourage ecologically sound forest-thinning, reduce the risk of catastrophic fires and make forests less susceptible to insects and disease. It would also help private land owners generate income and resist the temptation to fragment forest areas for development.

We are eager to carry on this work. We believe it is good for our forests, good for our country and good for the environment.

Chris Dr. Risbrudt is director of the Forest Service's Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis.

http://www.missoulian.com/articles/2.../opinion4a.txt
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Old 06-19-2003, 05:52 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Threats to Forest Health - #4 Unmanaged Recreation

Quote:
This opinion article sounds real sensible until he hits ...


The second threat comes from invasive plants, insects and diseases. Invasive plants can drastically alter habitat and make it unsuitable for native wildlife. Insects and diseases threaten to weaken or kill trees on millions of acres of forest.

The third threat is forest fragmentation. Every day 4,000 acres of open space are lost to development. When development borders forests, the impact is especially great on wildlife.

The fourth threat is unmanaged recreation - especially the off-road use of vehicles. Each year, this unmanaged use creates hundreds of miles of "unplanned" roads and trails. They cause erosion, degrade watersheds and destroy habitat.

Chris Dr. Risbrudt is director of the Forest Service's Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis.

http://www.missoulian.com/articles/2.../opinion4a.txt

Maybe Dr. Risbrudt should temper his opinion to address his field of expertise, Forest Products (timber production). Doing this would not expose the short thrift in consideration he provides to justify his opinion on three of his points in his four point plan. I have to agree with his point number one, active management of timber stands to enhance forest health, the other points are not so well defended.

Point #2: Invasive plants, insects and disease can be controlled by fire, once the current problem of fuel density and the resulting fire intensity can be controlled. Active management of timber stands allow for the controlled burns that many ecologists believe are necessary for forest health, to kill the invasive species, but only if the fire intensity is controlled through fuel density control (timber harvesting).

Point #3: Forest Fragmentation of open space external to the forest is a problem (for the health of the forest)? This 4000 acres lost to development every day is the same estimate publicized when Chief Dombeck defended the Roadless Area process. I called the offices of my Honorable Senators Boxer and Feinstein and requested locations of where fragmentation occurred that impacted a National Forest? Both offices assured me they could provide examples of 4000 acres a day lost to development impacting a forest (they held a firm belief that the USDA and USFS could not be fabricating data to support the Roadless Rule). The answer, after two weeks of investigation, is there were/are zero documented National Forest impacts available for public review.

I would expect that 1,460,000 acres a year of development fragmentation would be easy for an Agency person to be able to document and show these two Senator's Office Staffs where to look, but they failed. Here we read the same style of report again, and we are expected to believe it (again)?

Point #4: Unmanaged recreation, creating habitat problems? Unmanaged activity in a managed forest can lead to problems, but we have to gage the relative impact from the various forms of unmanaged recreation.

Roads and trails are not always damaging to surrounding habitat, even less so when historical road usage is considered. Any effort to isolate off-road vehicle use as the major contributor to damage, without comparing the impacts to other causes present in a forest is difficult to defend (fire, flood, weather, unmanaged fuels and the related unmanaged noxious species problems all have significant impacts). What is worse, damage from well maintained roads and trails, or the damage from one major seasonal event (mud or landslide from a torrential rainfall)?

The accusation that Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) and Street legal Vehicle (SLV) use is a major threat to a healthy forest must be balanced with a history of OHV/SLV use as a valued legitimate recreation practice in National Forests. The growing popularity of OHV/SLV based travel and camping validates the public sense of worth attached to this major recreation opportunity, This popularity should motivate the US Forest Service (including the Forest Products Laboratory) to investigate methods to preserve OHV/SLV recreation and enhance long term forest health (not prohibit recreation and close the roads). The Forest Service needs leadership who promote cooperative efforts at improving shared goals of serving the public and the resource habitat, not leaders who chose to prohibit valued public needs without research into shared solutions.

OHV/SLV use is prohibited in most National Parks and all designated Wilderness, including Wilderness and Sensitive areas inclusive to the National Forest boundary. OHV use is already regulated (managed) in a large percentage of National Forest lands, where OHV use is either prohibited completely or "restricted to designated routes only". SLV road and trail opportunity is actually greater than the OHV road and trail opportunity (SLV's can legally drive most OHV routes as well as all the SLV routes). In the areas where OHV/SLV use is restricted to designated routes only, the impact from vehicles is limited to less than 30 feet from the centerline of the road or trail (even where camping 15-feet off the trail is allowed). Road density (the total landmass comprised by the sum of all roads and trail acreage added together) is typically less the 1% of the total forest acreage. Where is the potential for "new" damage if these routes are maintained?

The question of OHV and SLV impact is not so much a measure of actual percentage of habitat where problems are recorded, but a question of how much OHV/SLV opportunity threatens the expansion of larger connected designated Wilderness areas? What is true perceived threat, actual unmanaged habitat impact, or less land mass available for Wilderness designation?

Happy Trails!
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