By Kirk Siegler
Western towns surrounded by and dependent upon public lands are forced to get creative as federal recreation budgets continue a slow decline. They are boosting local efforts to maintain public access.
It’s the boom times in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., which is wrapping up a winter of record snowfall. Eager to take advantage of it, Donovan Sliman and his two young daughters are lumbering up a snowy trail on the outskirts of town, where the condos give way to National Forest.
“I like to get away from everybody else,” says Donovan. “I like to hear the sound of the wind and the snow through the trees.” “We’re also going to go sledding,” adds Grace, one of his daughters.
Mammoth is completely surrounded by protected federal wilderness or U.S. Forest Service land. Its destination ski resort operates on public land via a federal lease.
The Slimans try to visit the Mammoth Lakes area from their home in Orange County at least a half dozen times a year.
They’re not alone.
Every year, more than 2 million people descend on California’s eastern Sierra region to camp, hike, fish, hunt and ski. This region, often dubbed “the wild side” of the state, only has about 50,000 residents across two sprawling counties roughly the size of Massachusetts.
Across the western U.S., towns surrounded by public lands are facing an increasing bind: They’re seeing a huge surge in visitors coming to play in the forests and mountains surrounding them, which is leading to an economic boom. But, at the same time, federal funding to manage these lands has been drying up.
By Robert Beanblossom
Nestled in a mountainous valley known as the Pink Beds is the Cradle of Forestry in America, a national historic site. This spot in the heart of the Pisgah National Forest is aptly named for it is the birthplace of scientific forestry in the United States.
This story begins in early 1888. That year a wealthy young man, George Washington Vanderbilt, traveled to the nearby town of Asheville along with his mother, who sought relief from malarial-like symptoms. Dr. S. Westray Battle, a retired U.S. Navy surgeon and a highly respected pulmonary specialist with a practice there, subsequently provided Mrs. Vanderbilt’s medical treatment while she and her son stayed at the posh Battery Park Hotel.
The clean air, scenic mountains and natural beauty of the area quickly captivated Vanderbilt, a widely-traveled, well-read individual, who considered himself a poet at heart.
Consequently, he fell in love with this land and immediately decided to build a luxurious mansion, later named Biltmore, and to purchase property. By 1895 he could claim ownership to more than 125,000 acres of forest land; but much of it had been heavily damaged by fire, grazing and poor logging practices. There were, however, virgin stands of high quality trees especially in the coves and on North and east facing slopes of his holdings.
Vanderbilt employed the foremost architect of the day, Richard Morris Hunt, to design his 255-room mansion but also hired an equally famous landscape architect, Fred-rick Law Olmsted, to design the grounds of the estate. Olmsted, known for designing New York’s Central Park, the U.S. Capitol grounds and other notable venues, suggested to Vanderbilt that a forester be hired to manage his newly-acquired holdings. There was one problem. Only two foresters were practicing in America at the time. One was a German forester, Bernard Fernow, who happened to be already working with the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. The other was a 27-year-old Pennsylvanian, Gifford Pinchot.
Pinchot, who came from a wealthy family himself, had graduated from Yale and had studied forestry, on the advice of his father, in France for 13 months. Anxious to get started in his chosen profession, he accepted Vande-rbilt’s offer of employment and came to the Biltmore Estate in early February, 1892. His plans for forest management included selection cutting for sustained yield. Stands not adequately stocked with trees were planted with hardwoods and pine.
Later, in writing of his experience, he stated, “… Thus, Biltmore became the beginning of practical forestry in America. It was the first piece of woodland to be put under a regular system of forest management whose object was to pay the owner while improving the forest.”
…Vanderbilt’s widow, Edith, sold the 87,500-acre Pink Beds tract to the U.S. Forest Service in 1914; it ultimately became part of the Pisgah National Forest. While all of those lands played a role in the origin of forestry, The Cradle of Forestry in America has special significance. Congress carved out and designated 6,500 acres as a national historic site in 1968. Here four firsts can be identified: the first trained American forester; the first managed forest; the first school of forestry in America and the first national forest created under the Weeks Act of 1911.
By BECKY BOHRER, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Plans for managing the nation’s largest national forest call for changes in timber harvests that one critic says will be “the demise of the timber industry as we know it right now.”
The Tongass National Forest released a management plan update Friday that it says will emphasize young-growth timber sales in the forest, which covers much of southeast Alaska, and allow for a logging rate that it says will meet projected timber demand.
This stems from a 2013 memo from U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, directing Tongass managers to speed the transition from old-growth harvests toward a wood-products industry that mainly uses young-growth timber. The move was to be done in a way that preserves a viable timber industry. The transition goal was 10 years to 15 years, compared to the prior target of 32 years.
The decision released Friday calls for a full transition in 16 years and expects most timber sold by the Tongass to be young growth in 10-15 years.
Many of our national forests are in dire condition and Congress must take urgent action to address this worsening crisis.
Catastrophic wildfires have once again wreaked havoc this year, leaving nearly 5 million acres burned, destroying hundreds of homes, unleashing untold amounts of carbon dioxide into the air and, most tragically, claiming several lives. These unacceptable outcomes are hardly new; they have been harsh realities for many years running. And with tens of millions of dead and damaged trees across many national forests, the problem will only grow worse.
As Forest Service professionals who dedicated our professional lives to protecting these forests, we have closely examined the science related to the causes and facilitators of catastrophic wildfire. The science overwhelmingly shows that excessive fuel loads, overly crowded tree stands, and trees weakened by drought, insects and diseases all contribute to the severity of wildfires. In our judgment, more active management to address these factors, including more responsible and timely harvesting, is unquestionably needed.
DEADWOOD — In roughly two decades, the Black Hills mountain pine beetle infestation has decimated approximately 215,000 acres of pine trees in the Black Hills, leaving drastically changed woodlands in its wake.
Designed to reduce fire hazards and promote biodiversity on more than one million acres of public land in western South Dakota and eastern Wyoming, the framework for the major new management plan, is set forth in a document titled the “Black Hills Resilient Landscapes Project.”
U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said his agency is trying to manage 60 million acres in need of restoration with 40 percent fewer staff and dollars than he had a decade ago.
“We need to focus on large landscapes, where we’re treating private land and national forest at the same time,” Tidwell said. “And we really need to focus on the outcomes we’re after – healthy, resilient forests that withstand disease outbreaks, fires, drought conditions that we’ll all face in the future. That’s the thing that produces economic activity that sustains communities and eliminates some of the conflict we’re seeing. That’s something we’ve been trying to address for decades in the agency.”
Gifford Pinchot, the first U.S. forest chief and founder of the Yale Forest School, doesn’t get enough credit, says historian Char Miller. In the early 20th century, Miller says, Pinchot helped shape our modern understanding of conservation, environmental education, and the very notion of “public lands.”
Next year, the U.S. Forest Service may take action on recommending that new acreage within Western North Carolina’s two national forests be added to the National Wilderness Preservation System as part of the ongoing Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest management plan revision process slated to be finalized in 2017.
Whatever the Forest Service recommends, approval will depend on congressional action. The positions of the House and Senate members who represent potential wilderness areas can be expect to have a substantial effect on the outcome of the political process.
Aspen numbers are declining in the Bighorns. They have been for decades. Though there aren’t a lot of studies that provide the concrete numbers behind the decline, it’s enough of a decline that it’s visually obvious for many who’ve spent years working and recreating in the area.
That decline is concerning for foresters and biologists because aspen are a keystone and pioneer species. They provide wildlife habitat, and produce forage, help maintain water quality, provide recreational sites and add variety to the viewshed.
Source: Where have all the aspen gone?