Finding the forest ‘sweet spot'

Former regional forester visits with local task force

SUMMIT DAILY NEWS
BY BOB BERWYN

FRISCO — Finding a sustainable forest-management model will require a shift in public perception, said Lyle Laverty, a former regional forester who visited Frisco Thursday to meet with the local forest-health task force.
 
Across the country, people need to understand that two-by-fours, clean water and other important resources come from healthy, vital forests, Laverty said, articulating an elegant definition of sustainable forestry. He described it as the area where you have a confluence of environmental factors, economic factors, as well as social and community needs.
 
“Where those circles overlap, that's the sweet spot of sustainability,” Laverty said, going on to outline some of the challenges facing both public land managers and owners of private forested land.
 
Key factors like climate change, insect infestation and changes in land-use patterns have conspired to put more than 100 million acres of forest land at risk to severe wildfires across the country. The fire season is longer, and when they do start, fires burn more intensely than ever, Laverty said.
 
“We're spending ungodly amounts of money to suppress fires,” Laverty said, explaining that about half of the Forest Service budget goes to fire suppression. And that comes at the expense of other programs, including rangeland management, recreation and forest restoration, he said.
 
“How do you get ahead of that curve,” he asked. “I'm convinced there are some creative solutions,” he said. 
 

Beetles

For the local forest health group, the issue is dealing with the aftermath of the mountain pine beetle epidemic. Using the wood for energy production and construction products has been challenging due to the high cost of logging and transporting the wood.
 
Commercial users have had to rely on government subsidies to get their operations going, hoping to reach a critical mass to make them economically viable. Relying on public funding to support private wood-product industries is not economically sustainable in the long run.
 
Laverty said more of an emphasis on the potential for energy production is part of the solution to getting some economic value from forest products, generating revenue that can, in turn, be reinvested in forest management.
 
“Forests can be part of making America energy independent. Renewable resources from America's forests can be part of the solution,” Laverty said. “The challenge, I believe, is that we're in a culture where there are so many competing demands. How do we convince people that forests can be part of that solution?
 
“We need to be a little more assertive in explaining to people the benefits of maintaining healthy forest resources,” Laverty said, explaining that forests can even be part of addressing climate change with carbon sequestration.