We are back reporting from New Mexico again. Have been able to renew some of our contacts and find many concerns are still focused on the risk of major wildfires and their potential impact on local communities and landowners. Many believe the increase in the number and severity of the western wildfires is the result of a reduction or lack of management treatments on our remaining forested lands. I would have to support their suppositions. There also seems to be a growing lack of trust in federal government forest land managers, with some discouraged by significant reductions in forest land treatments, while others continue to focus on the economic costs and environmental impacts resulting from management tools and techniques being proposed by the managers. The situation is further exacerbated by a significant reduction of trust in the legislative arm of the federal government. This variety of opinions continues to emphasis my concern that leadership, in most of these land- managing companies and agencies, are missing the important first step in developing informed consent. Somehow we must establish the importance of identifying, up front, the potentially affected interests and developing a plan to reach out to them, even if they do not see the need. It is our responsibility to make sure no one is allowed to avoid participation so as to later undermine the process. Once a detailed plan is completed and a concentrated effort has been completed to identified the potentially affected interests, it is time to start the dialog to define the desired future condition ( goals and objectives ). This may seem like over-kill, but it will save time in the long run and, will provide the best chance that your future steps will not experience, someone exercising their veto authority. I am suggesting that the emphasis must shift to the people part of the equation rather than the technical aspects of the process. Most scientists are comfortable in the technical process and would prefer to be able to skip over the people process. The other concern I have developed has to do with the preparation of environmental documents, such as environmental impact statements. With many years of experience observing, reviewing and studying the preparation of these documents, I have concluded that the majority of these documents present sound evaluation of scientific information from academia, textbooks and the scientist's experience, but usually lack adequate evaluation of the site-specific data obtained by empirical observation in the field. I truly believe these two issues are the primary reasons for increased law-suits and the significant reduction in maintaining the health and diversity of our remaining forests. Our lives are so connected to and depended upon trees and forests, we have no choice but to change our methods and processes which we have relied on for so long!
Lately, I have been receiving several news articles concerning activities proposed by the U S Forest Service which are being challenged in the courts. The Northern Region was concerned that so many of their proposed projects wind-up in court and this is preventing or delaying needed treatments to improve forest conditions. I am afraid I must suggest that much of the problem rests with the leadership of the Forest Service and their willingness to identify and involve the potentially affected interests. I also continue to observe that most of these debates focus on the tools and techniques to be used, rather than the management goals and objectives for the site specific units. Leadership requires the methodical identification of the potentially affected interests as the first step. Failure to properly complete this step, will allow interest to lay in the weeds and surprise you when they feel the time is right. The next requirement is to reach out to these interests and involve them in discussing the goals and objective for each forest community. The discussion begins by describing the current condition and the problems with the "Do Nothing" alternative. You are working to describe a desired future condition we can agree on. Do not allow the discussion to include tools and techniques! Remember all of your potential goals and objectives must offer improvements over the Status-quo or "do nothing" alternative. Following this formula will provide the best opportunity to achieve some degree of acceptance so you can begin to discuss a variety of procedures to accomplish the goals and objectives. Remember timber harvesting is a tool not a goal! If a timber sale becomes the preferred treatment, the products produced are the by-products of proper scientific management!
Another issue, involves the Forest Service effort to reduce fuel loading in Colorado to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire, by clear-cutting mature stands close local communities. It will certainly reduce the risk in the short term,but I suggest it will exacerbate the problem in the long term. We can not bomb-proof our forests, but can reduce the risk by maximizing diversity. Rather than clear-cutting large areas that will encourage single age class and single pioneer species to regenerate, we should be focused on identifying the unique forest communities and treating them to encourage health and vigor of each unit. Diversity is our best tool. Catastrophic events are encouraged by loss of diversity! It is time to become true forest scientists, our future demands nothing less!