Recreation wrapped in wood

Posted: February 27, 2017

Source: The Forest Blog
By Russ Vaagen

single-trackIn the last blog post, I didn’t get a good chance to wrap the story of recreation and forest management together as well as I should have.  I don’t believe that every acre should be managed and I don’t think every acre should be thinned.  Different management techniques that can and should be used to manage forests.  When it comes to our national forests in the United States, thinning is a great tool to use.  We desperately need to reduce the fuel loads in the forests.  We have too many trees.  I saw a report yesterday that the most recent tree tally of the United States came to 96.6 billion trees with a diameter of at least 5 inches.  That means trees outnumber people 300 to 1 in theUS.

That says something, but it doesn’t tell us everything.  We have more trees, but in many cases far too many trees.  In the intermountain west, where we have roads and have managed in the past there are more trees per acre now than ever before.  This includes recreation areas and the places leading up to them.  Why can’t we manage these forests at a pace and scale that allows us to get a handle on the fires, insect outbreak, and disease?

We need to protect our recreational assets and managing forests effectively can help fund maintenance and improvements to recreation.  We can manage in a way that balances the value of the material, the environmental impacts, the aesthetic values, recreational systems and public safety.

This is the United States.  We should have the best recreational opportunities of any place in the world.  Very few nations have incredible National Forests like we do.  We can and should have amazing wilderness areas.  We should have lands managed for conservation purposes.  And for the land that can be managed, they should be managed in a collaborative manner that best balances the values of our citizens.  The good news is that we can, and it is cost effective to do so if we rebuild enterprises that match up with what the environment needs.

Recreational opportunities exist in all of these places.  I want to see recreation of all types supported and developed in areas appropriate for each.  There should be excellent backcountry trails that are appropriately managed for the uses that are allowed.  We should have a mix of trails in the areas managed for conservation purposes including both motorized and non-motorized in their appropriate places.

In the active management areas, we should have functional trailheads and campgrounds that the American public and international visitors can use and enjoy that are clean and well managed.  We should focus efforts to make sure that each recreation use is in the appropriate location as to not adversely impact the recreational enjoyment of others.

In 2015, the Colville National Forest, along with many others around the West experienced massive wildfires.  There were many recreational areas adversely impacted.  Trails and roads were shut down for extended periods of time.  Many of the acres were backcountry, but there were also areas that had been slated for management which included thinning, selective harvesting, and regeneration harvests designed to create openings based on science.

If that project had been completed in would have been interesting to see how that fire behaved and what recreation areas could have been saved.  These projects aren’t designed to exclude fire, rather they are intended to allow the fire to perform like it would have historically.  Burning the understory, killing a few trees, but allowing the forest to stay intact.  When fires behave as they did historically, the forest rebounds quickly.  This means that the trails are ready to enjoy the next season with only hints of the fire that was there.

I enjoy recreation of all types, and I want to see these areas improved.  This can only be done if we combine our efforts and build an understanding that managing our forests together will get us the greatest benefits.  Forest management should be something that recreationists see and get excited about.  Knowing that the well thought out efforts are going to benefit their interests for generations to come.