Burning Issues

Experiments in Restoration
  |  Gorp.com

Another ongoing effort to demonstrate new forest management practices has fared better. In Montana's Flathead Valley, two citizen coalitions—Flathead Common Ground and the Flathead Forestry Project—have conducted a series of small demonstration projects. The experiments seek to improve forest health by providing a livelihood for loggers and other residents with skills applicable to land management. In the Cedar Flats area of the Flathead National Forest, fire hadn't burned since 1910, and the formerly open forest was filled with smaller, weakened trees and woody ground cover. Restoration plans included removal of these trees, along with some larger ones, in an area of roughly 100 acres.

Unlike the traditional timber harvest, in which a timber company or logger makes money based on how many trees are felled, the foresters hired for Cedar Flats were paid a fixed rate for doing the work and the logs were sold separately. Carol Daly of the Flathead Economic Policy Center calls this approach “separating the logger from the logs.” Daly's organization works with the citizen coalitions. “We continue to experiment with the contract process,” she says. “One thing we're trying now is an 'end results' contract—we'll identify the long-term forest condition we want, and say to the bidders, 'you tell us how you'll accomplish this.' Then we select on the basis of what they say they can do, and how they'll do it.” Another important component of this approach, Daly says, “is not necessarily to go with the person who is the low bidder.”

Inviting Grizzlies
Cedar Flats was a fairly straightforward project, involving selective cutting and thinning. A new project, called Paint Emery, is far more complex. Covering several hundred acres, the work here will involve such restoration activities as road removal to benefit grizzly bears, removing culverts on streams, prescribed burning, harvesting smaller trees, along with control of nonnative vegetation and planting new trees. It's the kind of work needed on many forests across the West. Daly says this project will involve several individuals or groups with varying skills; contracting approaches are still being refined.

The projects carried out here were made possible by the 1998 Department of Interior Appropriations Bill. Whether more money for large-scale projects will become available is anyone's guess; legislative authorization, now going on, is needed before the program can continue. Daly offers tours of the forestry projects already completed; she can be reached at (406) 892-8155.

Slogan's End
In the drought-stricken summer of 1988, the lodgepole pine forests of Yellowstone National Park erupted, focusing national attention on the issues of wildfire and western forest ecosystems. Held at bay for years on end, fire finally had its say and tore through much of the park. On the heels of this unprecedented event, the slogan “burn, baby, burn!” became popular in some environmental circles—an affirmation of fire's place in the natural world, its awesome power to destroy and, in the process, sow seeds of renewal.

Just 12 years later, the exhortation to “burn, baby, burn!” seems outmoded, as much a prescription for ecological disaster as the old Forest Service call to “get the cut out!” Certainly there are some forests across the West that will benefit from the fires of recent years, but as many or more will suffer further degradation. It's time to light a fire under our leaders—elected officials, environmental bigwigs, and the good old USFS—to turn down the heat in the woods and make restoration and forest health a top priority.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 7 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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