Restoration Forestry

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Restoration forestry is the process of restoring forests to a more natural condition. After a century of suppressing natural fires and past timber harvest practices most of the forests in the western United States and many other parts of the world have been altered to an unnatural condition. These conditions leaves them vulnerable to disease and catastrophic fires.

Many people believe that we need to protect the forests from human activity by locking them up and leaving them to natural processes. The problem with that idea is that this does not allow us to fix the problems that we have created and it leaves them vulnerable to unnatural catastrophic wildfire and disease. Even though past forest harvest practices have contributed to the problem, responsibly harvesting forest products is one of the only viable tools we currently have to restore our forests.

Forest fires have been a natural part of the forest ecosystem for millions of years. Fires are naturally started by lightning and Native Americans would also start fires to improve hunting. Forests in fire prone climates like the western united states are naturally adapted to wildfire. Many of the trees, especially conifers, have thick bark that insulates the trees and protects them from fire.

In the past fires would periodically burn through the forests and creep along the forest floor.  These periodic fires benefit the forest by cleaning up the forest floor and burning much of the underbrush and small trees that would compete with the larger trees for water and nutrients. After a fire the large trees with their foliage held high above and out of reach of the flames were left widely spaced where they had plenty of room to grow in the nutrient rich layer of ash left by the fire.  Out of this ash will sprout grasses and forbs that provide food for wildlife.

Around a century ago people started putting out wildfires. Without regular fires brush and small trees were left to grow. Now the forests have grown up so thick with brush and trees that it has created an unhealthy and unnatural condition. Early explorers were able to easily ride their horses through our forests but after a century of fire suppression forests have grown so thick that it can now be difficult to even walk through them. With so many trees competing for limited nutrients and water they are not as healthy and don’t grow as fast or as large.  The competition makes the larger trees less disease resistant less able to tolerate drought causing millions of trees to die every year from bark beetle infestations.

Now when a forest fire is started the fuel load in the forests has become so high with all the thick trees and brush that now they often burn so hot that they incinerate the whole forest instead of just the big trees.  Instead of light fires that clean up the forest the thick trees and brush now act like a ladder and carry the flames high into the forest canopy where it kills everything. These intense fires bake the forest soil which leaves them impervious to water so precipitation just runs off causing erosion landslides and flooding.  These baked soils can make it more difficult for a new forest regenerate.

Many environmental groups say we should leave the forests alone to let them burn because fire is a natural part of the forests.  The problem with letting them burn now is the forests are out of equilibrium and now fires are more destructive to the forests than they used to be.  Before we can allow fires to burn in a natural way we need to bring the forests back to equilibrium. In order to do that we must remove the excess fuel load. The most economically viable way of doing this on much of our forests is through commercial thinning. In a thinning the excess trees are removed and utilized for wood products and the sale of the wood products can help cover the enormous cost of restoring the forests. The excess conifers can be utilized to make products like lumber and poles and the hardwoods can be used to make excellent firewood. There is also the possibility of using western hardwoods for making lumber and other products.

Environmentalists and the forest products industry can work together to restore our forests while supplying our communities with jobs and forest products.

Prescribed Burn Cleans the Forest Floor

Controlled Fire Intentionally Set by Foresters

prescribed Burn

Foliage is Protected High Above the Flames

Controlled Burn Also Called Prescribed Burn

The Larger Trees Are Left Unharmed

2 thoughts on “Restoration Forestry”

  1. I want to encourage development of portable burner/engine/generator systems that would burn forest floor liter. They would b parked under a power line and sell power to the utility. When that area was cleaned, they would move to a different power line.
    A grant is needed for an engineering college to develop and prove such a portable system.
    George Richter
    Would you please suggest other groups who would help me find engineering schools interested in such projects?
    George Richter eng2gbr@aol.com

  2. No room for nature to be a bit “wild” anymore?

    What? Massive forest fires aren’t natural? I think they are. Some aren’t even all that dramatic nor severe, but just keep growing and growing, maybe a minor creeping fire much of the time with occasional “blow-ups” that further enlarge the fire, due to dry weather, and being free to spread for months? But in history, long before all the excessive fire suppression, before modern mismanagement of forests, there’s been some historic fires that burned over millions of acres. Back then, forest fires were thought uncontrollable, and weren’t fought, so they just ran their natural course.

    I think environmentalists would say, let forests burn natural, even if they are overgrown, even if it is hot windy summer and drought. I agree, but I don’t agree with enviro-wackos who want to deny benefit of forests to man, I very much want to see there be logging jobs, and better management of forests, in cost-effective means. Some are crying for more local controls of lands. I think that a good idea. I also think that forest fires should be thought more as “no big deal,” as much as possible, and allow the camping and hiking and fishing uses, while forest fires rage and send plumes of smoke cascading into the air, nearby, so long as they aren’t getting too close to endanger human safety. No use overly panicking, when we get a few major wildfires, every other hot, dry summer or so.

    Forests may be part of the beauty of nature, but so too is, the wildness and eerie beauty of a natural burn, so long as it’s far enough away to not be much of a threat. I think we should of course, try to prevent forest fires, but once it is “out of control,” more avoid fire fighting in remote areas where it isn’t really necessary, as even the fire-fighting efforts “damage” the landscape, backburns expand acres burned and so are useless unless to protect areas of higher value such as human property.

    I think the main criteria for how a forest is managed, is whether it is remote and inaccessible wilderness, or an area where people and property need to be protected.

    How are you ever going to restore forest “equilibrium,” if you are waiting forever for overburdened taxpayers to pay for endless and expensive thinning operations, that will likely never happen in enough places, and continue over-suppressing every little pidly natural wildfire? No, I think in remote enough areas, let the fires grow (or fizzle) naturally, even in “overgrown” forests. If the fire never is allowed to burn, won’t it be even more uncontrollable later when the forest is even more “overgrown?” If some forest fires balloon wildly out of control, who says we have to “control” every aspect of nature? So let the fire breathe and make it’s own weather, winds, as if it’s too wild, intervention won’t have much effect anyway? The massive fires actually change the forest, hopefully renewing it, while every little pidly a-few-acres fire, has almost no effect at all.

    Yes, commercial thinning and logging, why not cut some firebreaks too to protect cities and towns?, if it’s cost-effective, and produces useful profits for workers, rather than burdening taxpayers. I just think we still suppress far more forest fires, than we probably need to or should. Fire fighters should not risk their lives, just to “protect” neglected and unused or inaccessible terrain, remote forests. If the fire(s) are spreading away from property, deeper into forests, why not let nature deal with it, as nature does not need our help to be “natural” or wild.

    As a pro-lifer, I also believe that human populations should grow naturally without use of any means of “birth control,” no contraceptives to directly poison the body, for the greater good of the growing populous many, and for the benefit of individuals and their precious darling babies they have to go on having. As human populations spread and grow denser, they’ll likely be fewer places where forest fires can just run their course natural and “wild.” But for now, it’s too expensive to tame every little (or big) forest fire, when some areas are in more need of fire suppression, than others. Some areas that aren’t yet inhabited, could be left to nature to manage.

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