Environmentalists Mismanagement of Forest Lands 


Ned Eddins

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Related Articles:

1988 Yellowstone Forest Fires                          Forest Mismanagement

Mule (Horse Creek) Fire 2002                  Forest Fire Reader Responses 

Forest fires are a huge problem, and it is only going to get worse. Decades of allowing dead fall build up on the forest floor is not going away. The cost of forest fires is high, but after the money spent on forest fires circulates through our economy three or four times, the government has it back. The problem for me is not the cost, it is the black, dead tree-snags we see for the rest of our lives. It makes more sense to spend the money on proper management and preserve our greatest national resource.

On June 12th, 2002, Dale N. Bosworth, Chief of the Forest Service, testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health. His report on “Process Gridlock on the National Forests” sets forth the reasons for the agency’s inability to effectively manage our national forests.

Excerpts from his testimony:

…statutory, regulatory, and administrative requirements impede the efficient, effective management of the national forest system and that these requirements lead to excessive analysis, ineffective public involvement, and management inefficiencies that delay or halt the Forest Service from restoring the nation’s forests.

…I am dedicated to revising, not just reviewing, Forest Service processes to provide the best tools and training for our line officers and staff….

…We will do a better job of managing our processes. But I do not want us to just get better at playing a bad game. I want to fix the game…

President Bush announced his Healthy Forests Initiative in Oregon on August 22, 2002. The Bush Administration plans to:

Significantly step up efforts to prevent the damage caused by catastrophic wildfires by reducing unnecessary regulatory obstacles that hinder active forest management; work with Congress to pass legislation that addresses the unhealthy forest crisis by expediting procedures for forest thinning and restoration projects; and fulfill the promise of the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan to ensure the sustainable forest management and appropriate timber production.

Background information for the Presidential Action:

The 2002 fire season is already one of the worst in modern history. More than 5.9 million acres have burned this year in an area the size of New Hampshire and twice the annual average. This year’s fires have driven tens of thousands of people from their homes, destroyed more than 2,000 homes and structures, and caused the deaths of 20 firefighters. These fires have also killed hundreds of millions of trees, devastated habitat, and severely damaged forest soils and watersheds for decades to come.

America’s public lands have undergone radical changes during the last century due to the suppression of fires and a lack of active forest and range land management. In healthy forests, low-intensity fires help rejuvenate habitat by clearing out underbrush and small trees, leaving an open forest with strong, fire-resistant, mature trees. Today, the forests and range lands of the West have become unnaturally dense, and ecosystems have suffered.

When coupled with seasonal droughts, unhealthy forests are vulnerable to severe wildfires. They are overloaded with the fuels for fires in underbrush and small trees. A large catastrophic can release the energy equivalent of an atomic bomb and destroys, rather than renew, our forests.

Currently, 190 million acres of public land and surrounding communities are at increased risk of extreme fires. In May (2002), the federal government reached agreement with 17 western governors, tribal, and local officials on a comprehensive 10-year Fire Plan implementation strategy to reduce the threat of severe fires and promote healthy forests. This strategy calls for active forest management, through thinning and prescribed burns, to reduce the unnatural buildup of fuels.

The current firefighting techniques are often successful, but land managers must do more to prevent these catastrophic fires. The federal government has provided record levels of support for firefighting, but efforts to tackle the root cause of these fires through active forest management are too often hindered by unnecessary procedural delays and litigation.

For example, in Oregon, federal officials identified the Squires Peak area as a high fire risk in 1996, and began planning a project to thin crowded trees and dense underbrush on 24,000 acres. After six years of analysis and documentation, administrative appeals and two lawsuits, work was allowed to begin on 430 acres of the original 24,000-acre project. When lightning ignited the Squires Peak fire on July 13, 2002, with only a fraction of the area thinned, the fire quickly spread to 2,800 acres. The thinned area was unharmed by the fire. In un-thinned areas, the fire killed most trees, sterilized soils, and destroyed the habitat of threatened spotted owls. The fire cost $2 million to suppress, and $1 million will be needed to rehabilitate the devastated area.

The 1994 Northwest Forest Plan, which was designed to produce a healthy and sustainable forest economy while providing needed habitat protection, has failed to live up to its promise due to costly delays and unnecessary litigation. The Bush Administration will work with all interested parties, including Congress, to resolve the legal and procedural problems that have undermined the promise of the Northwest Forest Plan,

At the present time, there are too many bureaucrats, too many environmentalist groups, and too many environmentalists within the forest service to let any comprehensive change in the management of our wild lands take place. There is strong environmentalists opposition to President Bush and Chief Bosworth for having the audacity to try and revitalize our National Forests.Chief Bosworth’s  “fixing the game” and President Bush’s Healthy Forests Initiative can only succeed with the support of everyone who wants to preserve our national lands.

To read about the campaign environmentalists are carrying out against any meaningful change in forest management, type, healthy forest initiative into Google, and read the spin of environmental groups on how it is only for the benefit of logging companies and “big business”. I would be the first to admit there are undoubtedly some flaws in the plan, but at least it is a start. The alternative is to do nothing and watch our forests and homes go up in flames.

The California fires are not yet out and already the blame game, finger pointing, and denials of any responsibility have started. If FEMA had given Governor Davis the funds he requested, some environmentalist group would have tied up any forest floor cleanup or prescribed burns in environmental impact studies and the courts for years, just as they have in the past. Now, environmental groups will deny opposing brush clean up, but what about on the National Forests, or if some endangered specie was involved? An arsonist set at least one of the California fires, but the arsonist was not responsible for the conditions allowing these fires, aided by Santa Ana winds, to burn over a half million acres of animal habitat and thousands of homes. A bungling bureaucratic forest service influenced by environmental groups created these conditions.

Representative John T. Doolittle, Congressmen from California, and cosponsor of the “Healthy Forest Restoration Act” asserts,

“Due to decades of mismanagement, the thinning of these forests remains largely unpracticed within our state, leaving forests that historically contained just 30 to 40 trees per acre, now filled with 300 to 400 trees per acre. As the events of this week have demonstrated, the gross mismanagement of our state’s forests has literally created a perfect storm for wildfires.”

This is an excerpt from an article in the Wall Street Journal by Daniel Henniger, October 31, 2003.

…Back in 1994, the National Commission on Wildfire Disasters warned that “millions of acres of forest in the western United States pose and extreme fire hazard from the extensive build-up of dry, highly flammable forest fuel. The chairman went on to say…federal forest in the inland west need immediate intervention to prevent and environmental and economic disaster.

…In nine years nothing was done…these lands are subject to the authority of many federal bureaucracies and several famous federal environmental laws. Forest policy has been smothered with bureaucracy.

…and now the burning of California on a catastrophic scale-predicted nine years ago-is happening. We’ve destroyed the forest in order to save it.

Brave courageous men and women risk their lives over the stupidity of current National, or State, Forest and Environmental policies. It is of little comfort to ride through a burned area, or watch your home go up in flames, and know the basic cause for the fire may have been to protect some endangered specie you have never seen, or probably wouldn’t know what it was if you had.

This picture was taken by Wonder if this deer wishes it was on the endangered species list, and if something isn’t done to change forest management policies, Deer and the forests may well be added to the list.


The Senate has voted 80 to 14 in favor of President Bush’s Healthy Forest Initiative. The Senate’s watered down version must now be reconciled with the House version passed earlier. This does not mean the fight is over. Environmentalist groups, along with some congressmen and forest service officials supporting environmental causes, will try to block implementation of the initiatives in anyway they can. The only way meaningful changes will occur is to keep up the pressure on Congress, and if that fails, quit donating money to environmentalist groups.

As a staunch conservationist, I do not want our National Parks, Wilderness Areas, and National Forests consumed by fire. Letting our natural resources burn down is not the way to protect them.

Crown Fire Elk Bitterroot Mountains
Elk Escaping Crown Fire – John McColgan

John McColgan (USFWS) a fire behavior analyst from Fairbanks, Alaska took this picture during the Montana Bitterroot National Forest on August 6, 2000.

In talking to a variety of people, and from responses to this article, I sense the pendulum is starting to swing. Without meaningful compromise on the forest fire issues, the pendulum may swing too far in the other direction. I firmly believe both sides of the issues are essential in the process, but the welfare of the forest should be the concern, not political or ideological agendas.

I admit it is extremely difficult to reconcile my feelings for the environment, and yet, be against environmentalists and some conservation groups. The truth on issues affecting our environment is somewhere between the spin garbage of the environmentalist and anti-environmentalist. One is as bad as the other in distorting the facts.

With all the fires raging in our national forests, we commonly hear or read, “The fires will burn until it snows.” Changes in management of our forests would result in more scenes like this after the first snowstorm.

Fall Snow stops Forest Fires
First Fall Snow – Wind River Canyon 

This is an interesting article on the slow rate of recovery (1988 to 2011) of the 1988 Yellowstone National Park Fire taken from

In the summer of 1988, lightning- and human-ignited fires consumed vast stretches of Yellowstone National Park. More than 25,000 firefighters cycled through the park combating 50 wildfires, seven of which became major wildfires. By the time the first snowfall extinguished the last flames in September, 793,000 of the park’s 2,221,800 acres had burned.

One of the largest fires raced across western Yellowstone, threatening historic structures around the Old Faithful geyser basin. This series of images shows the scars left in the wake of the western Yellowstone fires and the slow recovery in the 23 years that followed. Taken by Landsat-5, the images were made with a combination of visible and infrared light (green, short-wave infrared, and near infrared) to highlight the burned area and changes in vegetation.

In the years that follow, the burn scar fades progressively. On the ground, grasses and wildflowers sprung up from the ashes. Over time, tiny pine trees took root and began to grow. The new trees grow more quickly (photosynthesize at a faster rate) than older, mature forests. Because they use and reflect sunlight differently than older forests, the new trees are lighter in color in these images. Fingers of new forest are most evident intruding into the narrow strip of burned land on the right edge of the image. Forests are likely returning elsewhere as well, but the small trees do not produce a dense enough canopy to show up well in the image. Some of the other changes seen from year to year are seasonal differences; the images range from July to October.

Though changes did occur between 1988 and 2011, recovery has been slow. In 2011, the burned area is still clearly discernible, though much of the eastern (right) portion of the image is covered once again by trees and vegetation. The high-elevation plateau has a short growing season, with hot, dry summers and cold, harsh winters. In such an environment, it will take decades for the forest to reach its former state.

Scientists and land managers use satellite images such as these to assess burn severity, extent, and recovery. There are no realistic alternatives to see how the entire area is recovering. Walking through some of the burned areas could give a false impression of the conditions, since the burn severity and recovery were not uniform. Even aerial surveys are limited in the amount of land that can realistically be observed at any one time. Only satellites provide the big picture required to track recovery throughout the ecosystem.

The Forest Mismanagement article was written by Ned Eddins of Afton, Wyoming.

Permission is given for material from this site to be used for school research papers.

Citation: Eddins, Ned. (article name) Afton, Wyoming. 2002.

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