MISSOULA, Mont. (October 17, 2017) – James L. Cummins, vice president of the Boone and Crockett Club, has released an Op-Ed on the mistreatment of our public lands with special attention on the negative effects on our national forests. The Boone and Crockett Club and its founder, Theodore Roosevelt, developed and nationalized the concept of conservation in the 19th century, and secured our federal public lands trust that makes up our national forest system. The Club continues to promote and educate responsible conservation and sustainable use of our natural resources.
In August 2017, over 650,000 acres were burning in the western U.S. Most of these fires were on public lands, particularly federal lands. By September 1, seven hundred wildfires raged in the state of Montana alone, ravaging some 1 million acres of public and private lands. California currently has more than a dozen fires consuming homes, wildlife and human lives.
National forests comprise a large segment of the ecosystems in the western United States. Most have evolved with fires, insect and disease outbreaks and blow-downs to retain biodiversity and forest health. But, times have clearly changed. More people are living further out into wild-land urban interfaces. To protect lives and homes this has logically led to a forest policy of suppressing natural fires and insect outbreaks. This intolerance of fires combined with decades of relying on our forests for timber production and then dramatically scaling this back, have helped produce very “unnatural” conditions of fuel build up ripe for the wildfires we’re seeing today.
More than 60 million acres of national forests are at high risk of wildfire or in need of restoration. In the past 10 years, over 65 million acres have burned. Federal foresters estimate that an astounding 190 million acres of land managed by the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior are at an unnatural risk to catastrophic wildfire.
At the heart of this matter is a public misconception that forests unattended will somehow return to a natural state, and this misconception is driving lawsuits to block conservation actions. Conservation focuses on using and managing natural resources to benefit both habitat and people. Nationally acclaimed wildlife biologist, Dr. Bruce D. Leopold, once said, “Nature just can’t take its course because frankly, there is no location on Earth where humankind has not had an impact. From radioactive materials and dust in polar ice, to ever-expanding distributions of invasive species, the evidence is clear that disruption of natural processes is a global phenomenon. Humans are a significant component of natural ecosystems (contributing the good and the bad) and the notion of suddenly removing their influence is both illogical and impossible. Natural ecosystems are just too altered to be left alone.”
Conservation practices can reverse these “unnatural” conditions through a variety of actions, such as harvesting trees and using controlled burns to mimic natural disturbances. These management actions reduce build-ups of forest litter (fuel) and overgrowth to encourage a variety of successional stages for wildlife, biodiversity and the prevention of larger, hotter, more devastating fires from occurring that can destroy even old-growth forests. A “letting nature take its course” hands off approach seeks to halt management actions and multiple use on the mistaken assumption the forests can and will return to their former “natural” condition.
Forest management eliminates or reduces the impact of catastrophic wildfire; protects riparian areas important for stream health (shade, filtering, etc.) and fish species such as trout and salmon; and protects water quality due to fires followed by rains with sediments washing downstream and damaging important drinking water supplies.
Using 21st century techniques by land management professionals – and not direct mail specialists and environmental litigators – we have the technology and know-how to restore America’s cherished landscapes back to a healthy, natural condition. Through the use of environmentally smart thinning, prescribed burns and other scientifically validated management practices, overstocked forests can be returned to a natural balance, reducing the risks of catastrophic wildfire and insect and disease infestations along with the associated expenditure of taxpayer dollars that should be used to manage forests instead of fighting more frequent and hotter fires.
Cummins’ full Op-Ed can be read in its entirety here.
About the Boone and Crockett Club
Founded by Theodore Roosevelt in 1887, the Boone and Crockett Club is the oldest conservation organization in North America and helped to establish the principles of wildlife and habitat conservation, hunter ethics, as well as many of the institutions, experts agencies, science and funding mechanisms for conservation. Member accomplishments include enlarging and protecting Yellowstone and establishing Glacier and Denali national parks, founding the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service and National Wildlife Refuge System, fostering the Pittman-Robertson and Lacey Acts, creating the Federal Duck Stamp program, and developing the cornerstones of modern game laws. The Boone and Crockett Club is headquartered in Missoula, Montana. For details, visit www.boone-crockett.org.