Webb talks about his approach to working for forest health

Mark Webb

So, you (Arleigh Isley) want to know how I intend to help Grant County deal "with the effects of global warming" (August 23). Since you elsewhere express skepticism about global warming (Eagle, April 26); and since your question is clearly motivated by support for Dave Traylor's approach to forest health, I'll focus on the latter with some mention, before closing, of some implications global warming might have for the county.

As you well know, Mr. Traylor has been advocating what he calls "Public Safety Corridors." According to his plan - supposedly endorsed by the Forest Service, the County Court, and other entities (Eagle, July 19 and September 6) - the county would create "safety" corridors by harvesting timber along county roads (and other county right-of-ways). This activity would supposedly accomplish several very desirable goals, among them a long-term gain in employment, a steady supply of merchantable timber for the mills, healthier (strips of) fire resistant forests, and enhanced water quality.

This sounds great. But unfortunately, Mr. Traylor's plan suffers two serious drawbacks. One is that Grant County does not - I repeat, does not - have the legal authority to harvest timber along county roads that run through federally managed public lands. Yet that is essentially what his plan calls for, as well as what distinguishes it from other projects of a similar nature (and name) undertaken by the Forest Service. (Perhaps that explains why, despite Mr. Traylor's claims of endorsement, I have been unable to locate any formal support for his plan by either the Forest Service or the County Court.) To ignore this fact, and attempt to implement his plan, would likely cost the county a good deal, both financially (because of lawsuits) and in terms of our reputation. We cannot afford either.

Another drawback is that it is too "weak," in the sense of too limited in scope, to achieve forest and community health: Restricted to county roads as it is, the plan cannot begin to realistically address forest health and water quality at a forestwide level. Moreover, there is not anywhere near enough merchantable timber along county roads to substantially boost employment or supply the mills for long, so that economically speaking the plan would have little or no real impact on our communities.

Although well motivated, Mr. Traylor's plan cannot, for the reasons listed, accomplish what this county needs. We need another approach.

I believe the most important contribution a county judge can make to forest health is to help promote an environment that enables the BLM and the Forest Service, as well as natural resource contractors, to do their jobs well. And that is the approach to forest health I would take.

As I see it, the central obstacle to such an environment is the current legal framework that favors environmentalists bent on curtailing activities they consider environmentally questionable.

As long as that framework is in place, our only chance for success is to engage - to work with - environmentalists and others who are genuinely concerned about forest health; and attempt to persuade them of what we already know: forest health at a forestwide level, in today's world, cannot be had with a hands-off, do-nothing, piecemeal approach.

My hope is that, given the environmental and economic realities of our time - for example, increasingly numerous catastrophic wildfires that are enormously costly - environmentalists and other concerned individuals will begin to appreciate just how serious the issue of forest health is, as well as just how crucial a role Grant County's traditional industries can and must play if our forests are to become healthy again. There is no guarantee this approach will work. But in the current legal climate, it offers the only hope.

I believe, moreover, that the environmental community's concerns regarding global warming might be used to the county's advantage.

For example, a recent report by the Association for Fire Ecology (http://emmps.wsu.edu/firecongress) claims that significant climatic changes "will increasingly limit our ability to manage wildland fires."

Claims like this, made by reputable organizations, can perhaps be used as one part of a larger attempt to persuade the environmental community that a broader, more hands-on, intensive, albeit environmentally sensitive, treatment of our public lands is "required" by the environment itself.

Also relevant here is the claim that global warming should lead us to cut mature trees, rather than young trees. This is (supposedly) because young trees are far more effective than mature trees at absorbing and processing carbon dioxide, a significant factor in global warming. Such a claim is all the more important - and contentious - because Patrick Moore, the cofounder of Greenpeace, made it. Yes, that's right, the cofounder of Greenpeace essentially claims that cutting mature trees is an environmentally smart response to the "threat" of global warming. (www.capradio.org/articles/articledetail.aspx?articleid=2346).

I plan to help the county deal "with the effects of global warming" by taking the approach to forest-related issues just outlined. And, if scientists are correct about global warming, there's some reason to believe it might play an important role in the county's attempt to make our forests and communities healthy once again.

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