Maintaining Wilderness

Help Nature Rebuild Itself

As many of you are probably aware, our beautiful state of Colorado has a significant problem with  the Mountain Pine Beetle.   It is too late to solve the outbreak, but it is not too late to help nature to return to it’s healthy state.  By removing portions of trees in wilderness areas, the forests in these areas will be revived sooner and go back to the green pine woods we have all been missing.

I am not purposing that the wilderness areas be clear cut.  There are benefits to some of the dead trees remaining, such as animals using them for shelter, to build nests on, and as food (Knight).  Other trees also benefit from their shade, but currently there are so many dead trees blocking the sun for the younger trees that might grow.  Many people are unaware that due to fire supression in past years, the forests had become unhealthily dense. For a forest to be healthy, the trees need room to grow: a healthy ponderosa pine forest has 40 trees per acre, lodge pole pines can be more dense, and so on for other trees (Trofka).  In order for the trees to grow back more quickly and become heatry, they need some of the dead trees need to be removed.  Mountain pine beetles are less likely to attack and younger and/or healthier trees which are more able to resist (CSU), so it is important to keep forests healthy.

It is true that wilderness areas were made to be natural, but much of the definition is up to interpretation.  Wilderness areas are locations “. . . of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvement or human habitation. . .” and “. . .shall be devoted to the public purposes of recreation, scenic, scientific, educational, conservation and historic use” (http://www.wilderness.net).  In other words, wilderness was created for people to enjoy land in its natural state with as little human influence as possible.  However, it is impossible to have land in which no human influence is possible, and by creating trails we have already influenced these areas quite a bit.  With 3,389,935 out of Colorado’s 66,386,000 acres being wilderness, it is not enough to just ignore these areas when attempting to help the forests recover.

It is also true that the pine beetles are a natural accurance.  A simular outbreak to the one pressently happening took place in the 1970s and the pine beetles did not disappear between the two outbreaks.  It would be impossible to completely remove the beetles, but when the forests are healthy and weather conditions are normal, the forest is not as affected by them.  With 70% of the lodgepole pines, the trees most often affected by the beetle, along with other pine trees, killed by the outbreak of Mountain pine beetle infestation (Newsweek) the forests are not currently healthy, and just because something is natural does not mean it is good.

You might ask why we cannot just let nature take care of itself since Mountain pine beetles are a natural accurance.  According to Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, 80% of the lodgepole pine trees will fall within ten years.  Should the trees be taken out now or after they have fallen and are covering the trails people use so often?  Joseph Trofka, a Larimer County Parks Volunteer and forestry graduate student at Colorado State University, says that when trees fall onto the paths the trees in wilderness areas are removed with two person hand saws.  There is also the chance that a wild fire would start naturally, in which case the fire would only be surpressed as it aproached manmade structures (Trofka).  The real question is: are we willing to leave our beloved forests up to the chance that nature might fix itself?

A large scale project like removing the dead trees from their location in the forest would be challenging.  In order to reduce the impact of removal, hand tools (two person saws and axes) would have to be used to cut down trees and removing the trees would be done with horses to skid the logs out of the wilderness (Trofka).  By doing this, the trees could be utilized for a plethera of good uses instead of just being burned up in a fire.  Or, the trees could also be chopped up but left in the forest as mulch for the younger trees which would make the job easier.  Either way, the young, healthy trees would be ensured safety.

It is better to care for the trees now instead of waiting for nature to fix itself because of the benefits to both humans and the trees.  Trofka states, “The entire time they are standing they are a potential safety hazard, capable of coming down at any time, depending on the wind and other environmental factors.  How long do we want to have the wilderness areas hazardous zones?  The swift cutting and removal of trees allows the forest to start new growth.”  Residence of Colorado, the time is now to take care of our beloved forests.  It would not be going against the written laws to care of wilderness areas by cutting down some of the trees.  Doing so would help help the forests to regain its health so that it can defend itself better against future dangers of a Mountain pine beetle epidemic.  Removing the dead pine trees would not have to interefere with nature if done correctly and in moderation.  It would be letting nature get back to rebuilding of itself.

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