Managed forests best for man — and tree

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Today we welcome you to two sides of a contentious issue: how to achieve healthy western forests.

On Page A5 you’ll find a commentary by Brett Haverstick, an environmentalist whose research and opinions differ significantly from ours. Brett suspects politicians and logging interests have mustered a dense smokescreen between you and the truth about proper forest management. Respectfully, we don’t see that at all.

Over many years throughout the West, we’ve spoken with feet-on-the-forest-floor people whose credentials are outstanding. Yes, some of them are professional loggers and other members of that industry, but most have been Forest Service employees and managers. These are people we consider experts; men and women whose job is to keep our forests healthy while preserving access for humans to enjoy them and a balance to be struck between industry interests and nature lovers (who often are one and the same). In more recent years, their jobs have increasingly included managing the many areas where humans and trees come together — where they interface. Creating buffers between people and the trees beside or around them can literally mean the difference between human life and death, as well as the loss of valuable property.

But as we read Mr. Haverstick’s opinion piece, we thought most of all of Dr. Wally Covington. The longtime Northern Arizona University professor is considered one of our nation’s foremost forestry experts, and a man without an agenda except applying science when addressing the future of our western forests.

After earning his doctoral degree from Yale and conducting more than four decades of research, Dr. Covington has concluded that western U.S. forests require the kind of management that Mr. Haverstick resists. According to a university article dated Nov. 20, 2015, Dr. Covington learned best how to address today’s problems by scientifically examining the past, when our forests were thriving.

“More than 100 years ago forests of the Southwest were open and park-like, dominated by groups of large, towering ponderosa pines and filled with a diversity of grasses and wildflowers,” the article states. “Today, they are dense and dark, overcrowded with dog-hair thickets of small-diameter trees. They are plagued by wildfires and a lack of plant and animal diversity.”

Dr. Covington’s prescription for healing forests, or, in his words, “to solve complex problems and implement research aimed at restoring the self-regulatory mechanisms of the ecosystem,” is a comprehensive approach that includes thinning younger trees while using prescribed burns and protecting old-growth trees. Dr. Covington’s research has led to millions of acres being managed in a way that bodes well for their future — and ours.

Managed forests offer the best chance for their long-term survival while avoiding the catastrophic, multi-billion dollar blazes that singe taxpayers, threaten human life and property, and heave countless tons of particulates into the atmosphere, adding density to the greenhouse effect, which pushes the planet’s temperatures higher. Sensible management helps our forests flourish.

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