The U.S. Forest Service has a very pretty website. They must have a professional webmaster. They must also have a professional public relations person, because everything on their website sounds pretty and looks pretty. Too bad the reality of the forests is not that way! Yes, there are lots of pretty recreation sites where people are directed to look and play, though some of them get worn down or mismanaged, too. There are also a few pretty forest patches, long forgotten by the F.S. and inaccessible to loggers. There are even some sites that are regenerating pretty nicely, until the F.S. gets around to them again!
But, for the most part, our public forests, funded by our money, are mismanaged by stuck-in-old-habits bureaucrats who don’t want to rock the boat and ruin their career. In fact, it seems that anyone who is radical is quickly dismissed. In fact, no new ideas are allowed to grow, just like no new Douglas fir is allowed to grow in Ninemile — a Douglas fir, Larch,Grand fir, pine, and Western red cedar (along the creeks and in narrow ravines, mostly) forest.
Even the proposals on their website sound pretty — “forest health”, “fire management”, “fuel reduction”, “ladder fuel reduction”, “crown fire fuel reduction” — add them all up the way the F.S. manages it and you basically have no forest at all! You might get the “toothpick” forest, at best.
“Forest health” — the F.S. doesn’t even know what is a healthy forest, but I’ll tell you. It is one that fits the land and supports the indigenous species and has the diversity according to it’s folds and knobs and ridges and creeks and valleys. For example, in Ninemile, it is a narrow valley running mostly east and west (slightly tilted to the south in the eastern part, then tilting NW in the western part). It was all forest before white man — it was not burned every seven years. If the “every seven years burn” is even true, it probably applies to the Missoula valley or the Arlee valley, both “historically” devoid of trees (due to burns every 7 years?), even up on the south facing hills. But that does NOT mean that all south facing hills should be treeless or Ponderosa only. That’s just plain idiotic! Both the Arlee and Missoula valleys are wide and warmer, but as soon as one goes west to Frenchtown, all the south facing hills are forested. And they were thickly forested once, like everything going west from Missoula all the way to Idaho, in the 1970’s. Now, it’s so logged and burned, it’s pitiful!
The Ninemile area is narrow enough, with plenty of folds and ravines and angles away from direct southern exposure and creeks and seasonal creek beds (where western red cedar grows, even in ones with no live water and 100 feet away from creeks), to support a wetter forest. It is also enough in the rain belt from the NW to get a lot of rain, except in the drought years. The knobs and knolls were thickly treed with large Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs and there was very little brush in the undergrowth. It was mostly sedges and kinnikinnick and huckleberry. To have “undergrowth”, one must have “overgrowth” — one must have the trees!
White man came and carved out a few farms in the valley. The forests were logged. Now, the forests have grown back; but all throughout the west, the lower to mid elevation forests keep getting logged more and more, thinned more and more, burned by the F.S. in their “management” programs more and more. If you look at the area on Google earth, you can see how sparse it is. There are just ribbons of dense forest left along the creeks. So, “forest health” should mean cutting out the deadwood, not creating more! It would mean allowing the moister forests to grow back, keeping both large trees and enough small trees for regeneration.
“Fire management” and all that other claptrap — the way the F.S. manages fuel reduction is to cut all healthy young Douglas firs up to 40 years old (6-8” diameter trunks), leave them lying on the ground for a couple of years to dry up, then set fire to the whole thing. I’m not talking about a slash pile, I’m talking about a ground burn! The point is to reduce “ladder fuels” — i.e. the young Douglas firs are “ladders” to the bigger trees — and space trees apart to reduce “crown fires”. But, after the burn, there is more deadwood left on the ground — some of the cut down Douglas firs didn’t burn, and more trees were killed in the burn that fell — and more standing dead that is still falling, 5 years after the burn! Some of these trees hang up on others to create dangerous “widow makers”, which would just act as a “ladder fuel” in case of fire!
In one area, where the ground was fairly open and not bushy before the burn and where some young Douglas fir was creating habitat, shelter, and screening for wildlife, the trees were far enough apart, and there were no widow makers before the burn. Now, there are dozens hung up on other trees! The Forest Service is just creating more deadwood and fuel for forest fires! They are worsening the situation! And they get paid for it, with OUR money! We’re paying them!!!
The Ninebark bush and Ceanothus and Dogbane have taken over the open places on the hillsides because the grasses and sedges the F.S. says it wants (for elk) got burned out and could not recolonize as fast as the other plants. Also, practically speaking, if the F.S. wants to reduce “crown fire possibilities”, they’d have to remove the trees completely, or space them so far apart that it would not be a forest at all! It would not be a place that would support western Montana’s forest wildlife. It would not even be like what they said it was “historically” (though they are wrong about what it was. There were a lot more Western red cedars and mature Douglas firs) . In fact, no matter what, if a fire were to start, it would have to be fought or vast areas would be lost, especially now, with all the newly Forest-Service-created deadwood. Even the “toothpick forest” would be destroyed, just like the mature Ponderosa forest up Lolo creek, along hwy 12 (in 2014?).
The little farms in Ninemile valley look quaint and bucolic and some people live in the forest behind them and it’s all nice and supports deer and elk and birds as long as they have the forest behind them. The F.S. has a buffer zone — the “toothpick forest” where elk rarely go as they have no screening to hide them and the forest floor is pitted with the burned out holes from tree stumps that could break a running elk’s leg. Mostly, whitetail deer are there, as well as robins and flickers. There was a nicer buffer zone — Menard — but the F.S. burned it this year, ruining and damaging a perfectly nice open, pastoral, treed area with a little irrigation creek, grass and sedges, and 200 year old trees! The F.S. has managed and over-managed Ninemile for so long that it is nearly all ruined now. They are destroying our heritage, instead of preserving it. There were two nice areas on the flats that had large trees, spaced 10-20 feet apart, and low growing undergrowth, but they allowed two logging operations — “thinning” jobs, they called them — that took out all the young Douglas fir under 40 years old and dozens of very old trees, spacing it to 30-50 feet apart! Some of you might remember when it was protocol to thin to 10-20 feet apart, but after all that got done and there were no trees left to log and people didn’t know how close they naturally grow, they say 30-50 feet apart or more, now! See the progression? All the young Douglas firs were wasted as well as all the branches, including some very large ones, from the harvested trees. All of it was burned in large slash piles, 12-15 feet across. All of it could have been used for paper! All of the waste from logging alone could save many trees. It’s criminal! Yet other areas in Lolo National forest and around the state, are glutted with dead beetle killed trees that no one thins out. It’s not a healthy forest and it has lots of forest fire fuel (to state the obvious, sorry!). It’s all for to politics and bad policies. If they do go in and cut it, they clearcut it, instead of cutting out only the deadwood. Nothing they do makes sense. All of it is contradictory.
They say they are creating diversity, but they are lessening it, picking at it year by year. They just don’t know when to quit! They say Douglas fir doesn’t even belong in the valley floor or on south facing slopes, but both statements are just plain ridiculous! (And these people are educated!?) They say they are creating habitat, but they destroy what is there and it’s no thanks to them that something does grow back! In fact, in one area that the trees had had been thinned and had grouseberry and kinnikinnick undergrowth that was food for birds and bears, they burned it. Now it is mostly grass (for elk hunters) and it has taken 4 years for some of the grouseberry and kinnikinnick to come back. The elk have plenty of other areas out there — plenty of meadows and ranches, though they like sheltered forest, too.
After one of their spring burns, there are no animals there that summer. The first to come back are the bugs, next are the rodents. During one burn, I saw hundreds of flying beetles of all sizes, including pine bark beetles, fleeing the smoke. I was half a mile away and they came all around me and past. I hope that doesn’t make the F.S. think they should burn wider and farther, burn it all at once! — they shouldn’t even burn at all! It worsens the situation by weakening the trees and killing or evacuating the bug eating birds. In fact, I did not see any birds fleeing the smoke. They either went another way or succumbed (birds have lungs, bugs don’t, really). I was there before the burn and there was no unusual mass migration of birds, not even year-round ones. In one bird area I studied, it took 3 years for any birds to really make use of the area and for the formaldehyde to fade. They were mostly woodpeckers (flickers, predominantly), robins, and juncos. It took until the 5th year for a full flush of birds to return, nest, and forage. I’m seeing both migratory and year-round birds, and this was a spotty burn area! In spots, there is nothing but dead trees. But enough trees escaped the burn to entice birds to come back. Although young Douglas fir is a good nesting habitat for some species, and there is none here, they have made do this year with brush and higher Douglas fir branches. But, it seems I’m seeing less chickadees and nuthatches than I did before the burn. The trees with the holes in them that they nest in probably got burned. It will take years for the woodpeckers to make enough extra holes.
Here is a knoll that was perfect — just the way the F.S. says it should be — open, sedges underneath, large Ponderosas — and now they ruined it. There were a couple dying Ponderosas that firewood cutters would have gotten over the years, but the Forest Service planned burn killed dozens of large Ponderosas. The firewood cutters got most of them close enough to the road; but, whereas, once the area was beautiful and full of life (an elk trail led down the hill) and large Douglas firs grew along the sides of the knoll, now it is weedy and dead 5 years after their burn.
I think more damage is done by the Forest Service in the name of a paycheck (don’t forget who is paying for it)! Walking through it, off the road, it is all a lot worse than I thought. In one 160 acre area, hundreds of trees on the slope were cut and left, and hundreds more were killed in their burn. Some had fallen and some were still standing. If a fire went through there now, it’d destroy our whole forest and not stop until the ridge and maybe not even then — Goshawk habitat up the hill, and the forested places the elk hide when they are not down on the ranches safe from hunters and poachers all destroyed. They can’t do another burn now! This is a crime! And they drove by, proud of their work, but they didn’t even get out of their truck to walk the areas they destroyed. They only looked at the areas they didn’t cut or that didn’t get burned much. How can they be so deluded! They have an excuse for everything! They must send them to a con-artist school!
You CAN sue the Forest Service. There are still enough unburned acres to protect, still enough unthinned. You can find an organization that will help. Alliance for the Wild Rockies sues the Forest Service in region 1 in Montana. There may be others. This forest waste — our forests, remember — is criminal! Would you let someone burn down your property? You, with resources and energy and health, do it!
More pictures of your tax dollars at work.
One of the thinned and wasted trees next to size 7 USA woman’s foot.
All of these photos were taken July 14, 2016 and are of the 2012 burn!