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Wyo Agency Works to Improve Forest Health Statewide

Written by Bill Crasper

As we enter the second half of the second decade of the 21st century, I believe it is appropriate to ask ourselves the question, “What do we want our forests to look like 50 and 100 years from now?” The debate surrounding the management of America’s forests is usually characterized as a battle between preservation and resource extraction. Or, as the news media loves to say, “The environment versus jobs.” In my mind, nothing could be further from the truth. I believe the debate over land management can be divided into three basic philosophies.

Humans are intruders in the environment and should not take an active management role.

We are part of the natural world and should accept the responsibilities associated with providing for the world’s population while at the same time preserving our natural heritage.

The environment should be mastered by mankind and is there strictly for our benefit.

This philosophical division over natural resource management is not new. It is probably best characterized by the societal views of the 1890’s in the form of John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, Gifford Pinchot, first chief of the Forest Service, and the Industrialists of the day. An argument can be made that not much has changed in the last 110 years.  Regardless of where we fall in this philosophical continuum, most of us would state that we subscribe to the second view of the world in spite of our actions. Unfortunately, our actions usually focus on single environmental issues, including wilderness, timber, recreation, minerals, species protection, water, grazing, roads, big game, fires, etc. instead of looking at the overall health of the ecosystem, including the human ecosystem. For many people, proper management comes down to one more acre of wilderness, one more stick of timber, one more elk, or one more animal unit month for grazing. To use a bad pun when dealing with these issues we frequently fail to see the forests through the trees.

Two years ago Governor Mead commissioned the Governor’s Task Force on Forests. This very diverse group was charged with looking at the forest conditions across the state and to develop recommendations and strategies to move into the future. It quickly became apparent, that even simple terms like “forest health” means totally different things to different people. After over a year of lively debate and discussion, the Task Force issued its final report in January of 2015. The report contains 12 major recommendations that I believe outlines a blueprint for success. Can all of the recommendations be implemented? Probably not. Are there other important issues out there that the Task Force missed? Most definitely!  Will the Task Force report change the views and perceptions of a lot of people across the state and the country? No! However, in my opinion, that is not the point. The point is that a diverse group of intelligent, opinionated people sat together and collectively said, “We can do better for our forests, our state and our country, and here are some ideas to move forward.” When you think about it, that is very exciting.

As we look forward to the future, in spite of tough budgets, national politics, and diverse and differing views, I think that we have every reason to be optimistic over the future of our forests. It will take hard work and commitment not only from resource professionals but from members of the public to move forward. The future of our forests and what they mean to us individually and as a society is too important an issue for us not to succeed. The dedicated staff of the Wyoming State Forestry Division and I are excited by this challenge, and we stand ready to work with private landowners, local governments, our federal partners, the Governor’s Office and the Legislature to implement the Task Force recommendations and to create a vision for our forests in the future. What better legacy could a bunch of foresters have than to help ensure that future generations can continue  to enjoy all the benefits that our forests provide?