Saturday, March 22, 2008

The sweet smell of smoke

That was the headline above an editorial in the Payson Roundup in Arizona. They are "giddy" about the Forest Service reducing fuels and burning piles.

Here is an excerpt:
It's not quite the bracing smell of "napalm in the morning," but we get positively giddy with the wafting of smoke drifting into town these days from the Forest Service slash piles just over the hill.

This week, the Forest Service concluded the last of its major winter burns to get rid of piles of debris from tree thinning operations on more than 4,300 acres on the outskirts of Payson.

Makes us want to do a little jig -- and throw our arms around the nearest stalwart in Forest Service green and give him a big, wet kiss.

Make no mistake -- that smoke is wafting of Rim Country's biggest problem.

Truth be told, every other problem on the list -- from meth use to propane bills will some day seem like trivial foolishness if the Forest Service doesn't get thin the dangerously overgrown forest before the inevitable disaster overtakes us.

Unfortunately, it falls to today's overburdened and underfunded Forest Service to set right a century of mismanagement.

Once upon a time, fires burned through Rim Country regularly -- thinning the trees and creating a network of meadows, aspen groves and open patches. The forest was largely fire resistant, with the big trees relatively unaffected by the frequent, low-intensity ground fires.

Then we turned the forest into a tree farm and spent a century stomping out every fire we could. Crowds of pine thickets sprang up in the clear cuts and tons of down wood accumulated on every acre.

So a forest that used to have 50 to 300 trees per acre and more grass than pine thickets now has 3,000 spindly, overstressed trees per acre across vast stretches. A timber industry geared to profit from the now scarce big trees has been nearly shut down, just when the Forest Service needs to thin the forest on a massive scale.

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