Monday, March 14, 2016

Let states manage, not sell

By Jim Gerber

At a Feb. 24 House of Appropriations Committee meeting on the Forest Service budget, Congressman Tom Cole, R-OK suggested there might be some merit to selling off the federal public lands. Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson pointed out that the people of Idaho love their public lands because they use them for a wide variety of uses. They would not like to see them auctioned off.

There is a better solution then to sell off federal lands. Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador has a bill that would create experimental areas of 200,000 to 400,000 acres in several states to see if state management of the federal lands is feasible. Labrador’s bill could be worded to prevent the states from selling off the federal public lands.

Selling off the public lands is not the main issue however. The bigger issue is that the federal lands are being mismanaged by the federal agencies to the extent we are in danger of losing their sustainability and biological diversity.

As forests get older they become susceptible to insects and disease. When they die, trees fall to the ground and fuel accumulates. These dead trees feed large catastrophic fires that burn intensively as crown fires. We saw these intense fires on our televisions in the summer, accompanied by words like “unprecedented” and “catastrophic.”

U.S. Rep. Labrador’s point, I believe, is that since the federal agencies are not actively managing the public lands, let’s give the states an opportunity to try. By creating holes in the mature canopy, active forest management can create a mosaic of different species and age classes of vegetation on the landscape. The wildlife species that use those various species and age classes of vegetation will find and occupy it, and biological diversity will be maintained. We need to do little else.

Gerber is a retired Forest Service staff member and is active in natural resources organizations.

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