No Higher Than a Shrub

If President Bush has his way our grandchildren may very well never see a tree taller than a shrub.

Bush’s “no-nonsense” attempts to save the forests of the West from fire seem to come down to cutting down the trees before they get tall enough to cause serious wildfires. No denying that kind of logic. There’s certainly no denying this would put an end to forest fire.

Neither can anyone deny that there are serious problems in western forests. With the worst part of the traditional fire season still upon us, the West has seen some of the worst fires in history. There is little agreement on the best way to solve these problems even among experts in the field.

The Bush administration wants to blame these fires on precisely the people most interested in saving the trees, environmentalists. However, it strains creditability to argue that these people are to “blame” for the fires. Most of these environmental groups have been urging thinning and other steps to ameliorate the fire danger for years. For instance, here are three short-term suggestions by the Sierra Club to lessen these dangers.

The Bush plan would emphasize logging as the preferable means of controlling wildfires. According to Time magazine,

The "Healthy Forests" [you gotta love the guy who makes up these titles for Bush, he must have a degree in creative writing] initiative calls on Congress to pass laws that would "expedite procedures for forest thinning and restoration projects" and "ensure the sustainable forest management and appropriate timber production."

According to the Oregonian Bush’s message to a hand-picked audience of loggers and firefighters was that “His forest plan equals jobs”

One can only suppose that those jobs are “logging jobs.” The kind of thinning that’s based on logging practices has to include the cutting of the largest trees because they are the trees that bring the most money from logging companies. The smaller trees cost money to cut and get rid of, so there is no incentive to cut them down.

Nature’s suppression of wildfires has been diametrically opposed to this strategy. In nature, the smaller trees have been burned down by forest fires and larger trees, through the thicker bark’s natural resistance to fire, have actually benefited from the nutrient’s left by the fire and by the increased exposure to sunlight.

The Pacific Northwest’s forests thrived for millions of years when left to these techniques. The forest industry almost to today has relied on these trees, not the ones man has planted, for their livelihood.

It seems ironic that Republican conservatives who so often claim the moral high ground on religious grounds would put their faith in Mammon rather than natural forces when attempting to solve the problems in our nation’s forests.

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