Monday, July 31, 2006

Put up a parking lot

The campers extinguish the remainder of their campfire and retire to their sleeping bags. They lie quietly, looking through the fly screen at a sky-carpet of stars, listening to the frogs and crickets. It is so peaceful. Wait; what do they hear? It’s the common loon. No silly, not the state bird; it’s Katie grousing about the fact that loggers can’t get into the BWCAW. Katie thinks we should log and clear brush to reduce the fire danger. She wants to encourage healthy forests, just like president Bush. For the first time in Spot’s memory she quotes a DFLer, David Dill, a representative from Crane Lake:

"We've been very fortunate with the fire so far," he says. "The weather has cooperated." If luck holds, Dill says, this fire may not threaten life or property.

But the blow-down added greatly to fire danger in the BWCA, and the threat is far from over, Dill emphasizes. "Some people say this fire may just be a warning shot across the bow," he says. "If a fire starts in the right place and the stars align with hot, windy weather, communities like Ely and Tower could face a catastrophe."

Since 1999, Dill -- like many in his district -- has advocated measures to prevent such a catastrophe, and simultaneously to manage the area's resources better. But these steps were never seriously considered, he says, thanks to rigid federal rules and concerns about lawsuits by environmental groups.

For example, after the blow-down, loggers removed highly flammable dead trees in a corridor just outside the BWCA. They went across the ice in winter, Dill says, and had minimal impact on the environment. This significantly reduced fire risk in nearby areas, he says.

Similar "salvage logging" could have been performed at strategic sites in the BWCA. But wilderness rules [that darn fedral gummit again] forbade it. "They would have had to go in there with a handsaw and a dogsled," Dill jokes. [italics are Spot’s]

Wilderness. Manage. Wilderness. Manage. Hmmm. Those words don’t seem to fit too well together do they, boys and girls? Dill says he doesn’t want to change the area’s wilderness designation. Oh sure, we’ll still call it a wilderness, it just won’t be one. Dill says, hey the whole area was logged off once, so what’s the dif?

Well, there’s a big difference boys and girls. If you ever go to the Boundary Waters, you will see the occasional majestic white pine towering above the rest of the trees. These guys were just little shavers too small to cut when the loggers went through. Now they are just reminders of what the entire forest used to look like. The second growth forest looks stunted by comparison, lots of scrub alders and jack pine. We’ll never have an old growth forest there, at least not in several lifetimes, but cutting or removing trees will impede the process.

Of course, we could reduce the first danger to zero, just by cutting down all the trees, clearing the brush, and paving the whole thing!


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