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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mescaleros and the Tree Party Rebellion

Last weekend, I ran across this interesting article...

A Tree Party Rebellion by Marita Noon

I suggest a full reading of the article. Here are, I think, the essential points...

"For the past 20 years, since the Mexican Spotted Owl was listed as an endangered species, New Mexico’s forests have become overgrown. Thousands of jobs were lost, sawmills closed up. Fires became wild. 
study done earlier this year by the USFS’s Pacific Research Station, and validated by work done by Sandia National Laboratories, shows that the healthiest forests in the arid climate of the Southwest have approximately 50 trees per acre. Many of the forests in the Southwest have as many as 2,500 trees per acre. Forest management practices that aim to restore owl habitat, rather than that of an overall healthy forest, have contributed to increased fuel loads and fire severity. 
...
The nearby forests of the Mescalero Tribe provide a case study on forest management. Rather than following USFS policy, they manage for the health of the forest and practice uneven age management—meaning they log selectively. When there are forest fires—a reality in the arid mountains of the Southwest—in the Lincoln National Forest, the fires quickly become wild, threatening people, livestock, structures, and livelihoods. When the same fire rushes on to Mescalero lands, due to the healthier trees and less density, it lays down and becomes a more manageable surface fire. An added bonus: their forests have several spotted owl protected activity centers.
... on Saturday, September 17, the Otero Country Tree Party put the Forest Service on notice. They did not ask permission; they realigned the government and took back their right to manage the lands owned by the state and county.  The 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act requires that the lands be managed in coordination with the state and local governments and New Mexico state law gives local sovereignty over public lands.
 While the “Tree Party” on Saturday was largely symbolic, it let the Forest Service know the County is serious. If the Forest Service doesn’t follow through with the Emergency Forest Management Plan the County has drawn up, the County will have no choice but to move forward on its own. The actions taken by the Otero County Commissioners are being watched closely by the National Association of Counties.

The Otero Country Tree Party has worked to stay within the law and asked people to leave their pitchforks and chainsaws at home. The trees were cut by professionals, who safely dropped them, as a cheering public looked on. Congressman Steve Pearce cut the first tree under the direct supervision of the professionals. The Tree Party supporters then helped clean up—doing what the USFS should be doing.

The Otero County Commissioners believe that in addition to saving lives and property through reducing the fire danger, their Emergency Forest Management Plan can provide as many as 1,000 jobs for the local communities. Chairman Rardin said: “We are just trying to fix our problem. This is what America wants.”
The Otero County Tree Party is a movement that could change the nation as other counties realign the government by putting them back where they belong."
The irony here, of course, is that the good citizens of Otero County are pushing to follow Mescalero "multiple-use" land management practices as opposed to the owl-protection plan mandated by the US Forest Service. And by the way, those practices seem to be the same as our own Father of Forestry, Gifford Pinchot, championed more than 100 years ago. More irony.

I'm sure the good folks at the Forest Service will claim that they are constrained by limitations of the Endangered Species Act...
"The law requires federal agencies, in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and/or the NOAA Fisheries Service, to ensure that actions they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any listed species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat of such species."
 - http://www.epa.gov/lawsregs/laws/esa.html
The ESA sounds pretty good in theory, and who can argue with the great results produced in efforts to re-establish the bald eagle in this country? 

But would it surprise you that there are currently 1,256 animal species and 798 plant species currently listed as endangered in the United States, and over 20,000 animal and plant species worldwide? And that more are being added every week?

Am I being too skeptical, or would the size of that list suggest that practically any and every development or commercial proposal could be challenged by "concerned citizens" based on the potential presence of an endangered species?

Maybe I am. But this story of the "endangered" Mexican Spotted Owl recalled to my mind ghosts of Northern Spotted Owls, Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers, and Delta Smelts...all of which greatly reduced production of natural resources and cost thousands of jobs.

Glad to see the folks in Otero County moving to return common sense to our land stewardship dialogue. Pinchot and Aldo Leopold  would be proud of them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Seems the APACHE TRIBAL NATION should get much of the credit.