The wood to rebuild Tahoe is sitting there, rotting

The following excellent essay was published last Saturday in the Sacto Bee [here]. We re-post it in full:

By William Wade Keye, professional forester

A year after the Angora fire in South Lake Tahoe, the dead trees, debris and rubble are cleared from the devastated neighborhoods. New homes are sprouting from the earth to the tune of contractors’ blaring rock music, hammers and nail guns.

Lumber to sustain the rhythm is being transported from Canada, Oregon and Washington. Dozens of structures are rising in a cacophony of recovery and new life.

It’s all taking place within the afternoon shadows cast by the thousands of dead trees that remain standing on adjacent national forest lands. Although seared and killed by high heat, inside their charred bark is unburned wood, light and bright.

Yet despite this volume of usable fiber, these cellulose skeletons will never be tapped to help build a single structure.

Rather, the trees killed by the fire will be left to rot, under assault by insects and fungi, as the U.S. Forest Service plans and plans, and then plans some more, about what to do in the aftermath of the last year’s disaster. It doesn’t want to get sued, having lost the will to fight against environmental activists and their attorneys.

Judicial decisions have broken the back of a once-proud federal agency, handing de facto control of the public’s forest to people who don’t like forestry. The wood to rebuild Tahoe is being imported from distant forests hundreds of miles away. This is called protecting the environment.

As an American citizen, I’m troubled that the Toyota Prius was engineered in Japan while Detroit was figuring out how to build a better Hummer. I also don’t understand why we, as Americans, can’t both expand our domestic energy supplies (including fossil fuels and nuclear power) and push for much greater efficiency, alternative sources and new technology.

As a forester, I don’t get the environmental benefit of burning forests down, letting them rot and then – perhaps – trying to clean them up at great expense to taxpayers. I don’t accept that we won’t look to quickly salvage and utilize dead public timber instead of sourcing our wood from living trees in someone else’s backyard, at great cost in terms of wasted energy, carbon emissions and true community. I can’t imagine why we don’t plant trees in denuded areas just as fast as we possibly can to prevent brush encroachment and deforestation.

These behaviors contribute to global warming. A wildfire such as the Angora fire emits massive amounts of greenhouse gases, followed by years of slow methane release. (Methane is 20 times more active as a global warming agent than CO2.) If, instead of allowing dead timber to decompose, we harvest and utilize it in long-lasting products and bioenergy, we can store carbon for long periods and also offset the burning of fossil fuels. Finally, by not reclaiming the site with a growing young forest, we fritter away decades of opportunity to capture and store high levels of atmospheric carbon. This is something that healthy forest ecosystems are remarkably good at doing.

All over the country there is a movement toward locally grown fruits and vegetables, organic foods and community gardens. People are demanding authenticity in terms of what they eat and where it comes from. It helps us make sense of our lives in an increasingly corporate and impersonal world.

In national forest policy, it should be Prius drivers and organic farmers who are leading the way, clamoring for local responsibility and economies of ecological authenticity. Taking wood from distant forests in order to rebuild in Tahoe should be simply unacceptable. Especially when it’s just sitting there, rotting on the stump.

Instead, we accept the grim counsel of the eco-clergy: better to do nothing than risk anything. Burn down the forest, let it go to brush, but just don’t touch it. Where our wood comes from is not important.

No wonder the Forest Service has given up on actively managing its lands, even to the extent of trying to keep them green.

Theodore Roosevelt, who set aside most of our vast system of national forests during his risk-taking years in the White House, is turning over in his grave. Roosevelt intended them to be used, not neglected. Conservation was not about minimizing risk, but about maximizing the social good.

Forestry, like sustainable agriculture, is a “can do” enterprise, as integral to the human experience as rebuilding homes after a terrible catastrophe. When we suppress something so wholesome and engaging, we kill off a bit of ourselves. We become poorer, more afraid, easier to corral into a world of diminished possibilities.

The post-wildfire blight and deforestation in Tahoe, and spreading throughout our national forests in the American West, is a Hummer we are driving, wasting resources and spewing greenhouse gases while new life – and fresh oxygen – is so abundantly available.

William Wade Keye is a California registered professional forester.

16 Jul 2008, 3:00pm
by Tim B.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. And I really like the “harvest locally” analogy; hadn’t really put two and two together in terms of how eating locally naturally leads to producing your own wood.

I have always been astounded that these days society seems to be more okay with cutting green trees to meet its needs than those killed in a natural or man-caused fire. All this makes me remember the first experience I had with “informal disposition,” Congress’s lame attempt to streamline and minimize the appeal and litigation process in National Forest planning.

We met with a local environmental activist that had a problem with a well planned timber sale a colleague of mine had put together, in the hope that some minor modification of the project would prevent an appeal. Of course, it was not how we were harvesting, but that we were harvesting at all that was the problem. When our Ranger, who had spent considerable time in Central and South America as a Peace Corps volunteer presented a very cogent argument that the way the FS does business is more environmentally sound than any other country he’d been to, and that he felt it was better for us to obtain our wood products from our own lands in a sustainable way rather than relying on other countries who may not harvest as sustainably as we do, this lady replied that she lived simply and didn’t use many wood products, and that we should tell people to do the same.

Not only would Congress have a fit if the FS started to preach such things with Congress’ direct funding, but how much more simple can you live than by using a very clean and renewable resource that doesn’t take ton of bunker oil to ship halfway across the world? Not to mention that the particular young woman didn’t seem to realize that wood in some quantity is needed even if you do “live simply.” I live a simple life in a simple wooden house that takes 3 or 4 cords of wood to heat, with simple furniture built with local woods. The use of alternative products such as plastic, steel, and concrete always involve some product of a tree anyway. And I’ll bet on a per acre or per weight basis that more environmental damage would be done cultivating hemp or any other annual fiber crop than what you can get from an acre of Douglas-fir over whatever rotation you care to use.

What a dilemma; how are we going to turn this strange societal viewpoint around?

16 Jul 2008, 3:36pm
by Mike

Substituting hemp for other building products, fuels, etc. is the wild and crazy daydream of druggies. There are plenty of places in the world that grow hemp; if it was such a useful and cost-efficient product the world market would be using it today. It isn’t used because so many other products are better and cheaper.

The druggies also seem to have forgotten that hemp is not marijuana. Hemp has no “medicinal” (read psychoactive) use; it won’t get you high. Further, hemp pollen en masse would denature all the backyard marijuana and render it useless for drug purposes, too.

If the hemp advocates got their way, the very thing they value marijuana for over all else would be lost. Not to mention the exorbitant economic and environmental costs associated.

Conversion to a hemp economy is a pipe dream, literally. Irrational, uneducated, useless, and far fetched beyond all recognition. It is a throw-away notion promulgated by people who are out of touch with reality, and we all know why.

16 Jul 2008, 7:33pm
by Tallac

Hammer, meet nail.

Mr. William Wade Keye nailed it in his exceptional essay.

It is truely a shame that that surrounding acres of government lands loaded with scarred, but some merchantable trees, are rotting away over a year later.

All the while because the USFS has the League to Save Lake Tahoe, TRPA and the Sierra Club’s thumb up its ass over a year later.

Study this, study that. The same old mantra. It is getting very old. No need to worry they say, something might be done, sometime.

While Tahoe doesn’t have a in-basin mill for this timber to process (enviro heaven forbid), estimates of board feet to rebuild barely exceeded a potential salvage.


I guess we’ll never find out why these so called “environmental protectors” talk out of both sides of their mouth.

Reminds me of clowns with red lipstick up to their earlobes.

16 Jul 2008, 8:24pm
by Mike

Have you ever noticed how the officials of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, TRPA, and the Sierra Club all live in wood-framed houses? What’s that about? Shouldn’t they be banned from buying boards? Maybe they could live in hemp houses.

By the way, the dead wood fuel load has increased in the Angora watershed. A few years of brush growth to replace the fine fuels, and the hazard will be back in full bloom.

16 Jul 2008, 8:40pm
by Forrest Grump

Don’t you wish we could bring Teddy Rooooooosevelt back for two weeks? He’s probably alive anyway; I bet you can feel him spinning at his gravesite.

Good essay.

16 Jul 2008, 10:21pm
by Tallac

Radicals often do live in trees, a cave, or cardboard box next to a dumpster. Bless their hearts.

Most members of these organizations do not.

Some jet-off to international meetings and conferences fretting over global warming or whatever is on their agenda that day with a photo opportunity and to enhance a standing.

But they do live in wood-framed homes we build for them, drive vehicles on highways we construct, and eat the food we grow.

Made possible by the resources around us.

All the while lecturing us about how evil we are, and thus needful of more regulation.

Hypocrisy at its finest.

17 Jul 2008, 8:57am
by Bob Z.

William Wade Keye needs to be commended for both writing an excellent essay, and for getting it printed in the Sacramento Bee.

How will California wildfire victims respond to this thinking? How will the environmental legal industry? Common sense in the management of forest resources is long overdue. This editorial should be required reading in California schools and in Washington DC congressional offices.

17 Jul 2008, 8:59am
by Dr. Brenner

It’s heartening to know that there are a few true Americans out there still using their brains. And where do you find them, well, right here at the Western Institure for Study of the Environment. Thanks for posting this essay.

William Wade Keye’s essay is right on. Forestry is a “can do” enterprise, and one that contributes to our country’s economy and self reliance.

Its a national disgrace what has happened to our ability to produce the essentials for living in this country. Its not that we can’t do it, its that we are prevented from accomplising anything that benefits our lives because of the human-hating wackos whose rude, loud voices are screaming in the ears of our elected leaders.

I wonder if the enviro-crazies who sue at the first sign of a timber sale in this country have ever thought about where the wood for their houses comes from and what is happening in those forests. I wonder if they thnk at all!

17 Jul 2008, 12:56pm
by Mike

You know, there is so much I don’t post. You think this site is openly expressive, but there is a ton of stuff I withhold because it is too inflammatory and probably libelous.

For instance, many of the fires burning in CA right now are impacting major Mexican National drug cartels, because mafia-like pot farming by illegal aliens is a big business on public lands there. And there is collusion by the top officials in that state with the cartels. That’s why the CA Atty Gen wants forests dedicated to holocaust, to keep the public off so that more pot can be grown. Not backyard pot, but major commercial grow operations run by the most murderous organized crime families extant today.

And that thread runs deep in the so-called enviro movement. That’s why they promote forest destruction under the phony guise of “protection.” It’s all about greed, corruption, and destruction.

There is a strong anti-American sentiment involved, too. Foreigners are bankrolling a Maoist running for President. Our national economy is in shambles as inflation from outrageous energy prices soars. It’s as if Enron never disappeared but has taken over the government.

The fires are burning out of control because that’s the policy. We are supposed to thank the firefighters for not fighting the fires but allowing them to expand to hundreds of thousands of acres, burning trillions of dollars worth of timber and incinerating watersheds and habitat in vast tracts.

But why go on about the bottom feeders who have sold their integrity to the highest bidders? Better to attack the problems with solutions. And the key solution is for local residents to take back their landscapes from the international crime cartels, including our own state and federal governments, which are major colluders and enablers of our national collapse.

18 Jul 2008, 9:19am
by bear bait

A large segment of the contract type 2 fire crews are Hispanic… ok, illegal aliens. The way to get into that business is to buy a van, install blackout screening on the windows, steal license plates from several states, and go to Arizona and pick up wetbacks and haul them to the PNW. You get $1500 a head in a 15 passenger van. It costs the aliens more, but that money is paid to corrupt border patrolers to let them pass at check points unmolested. Two trips, and you own a van. Two vans and you can haul a 20 person type 2 fire team. Then you have to pay to train them. Or they have to pay you to get trained. Who knows how that works because that is beyond the pale of public scrutiny. I just know that it all operates by rules other than those of the US, hidden by language and culture. And the hiring agencies do not care. All they want is bodies on the fire line, with a modicum of “documented” “certified” “trained” employees with 3 or 4 competent English speaking crew and squad leaders. Some of those contractors make a million dollars a year, and when the IRS comes for them, they just empty the bank and go back to Mexico. Has happened way more times than you are ever told by the Free Press or government press release.

All year long you see farm workers dressed in Nomex green cargo pants and the requisite yellow shirt. About $150 worth of clothes. No big deal, because on those fires they have an exchange at the laundry and you hand in clothes and get clean ones in return. And all you can steal. One fire, and you can outfit another crew just with the purloined equipment. That is how it works. As to dope plantations and drugs in camp, it is there, they are there, and USFS or BLM security is a few people lounging around in the fire camp looking important.

All that the USFS has on direct payroll in many places is some cops. No timber people, no grazing people. Just cops. They get locally deputized and give out traffic tickets on the highway. But the mega dope plantations in the roadless areas go undetected for the most part. Last year, on the Cal/OR border in Malheur county, the cops raided a dope plantation in the high desert mountains. Only caught one guy who got lost in the retreat. Their camp showed they had been living on beans and big horn sheep. Had a Lahontan cutthroat trout stream relocated to irrigate their plants.

I and another guy set up an archery camp for our kids to hunt deer and elk a couple of years ago on the John Day River. We babysat grandkids while the dads hunted, and had a great time. While we were there, two 10,000 plant dope grows were found in roadless areas. Nobody was arrested. Among the evidence were lots of tortilla plastic bags and elk bones.

The illegal farmers are not high paid, but they are armed. This is in Oregon, in Eastern Oregon, and dope growing is pervasive there. Oregon has become a narco colony for the Mexican cartels with justice administered against family in Mexico if you don’t do your job. The USFS has such a poor handle on what goes on in their forests that perhaps one in one hundred is ever discovered before they are harvested, and only their garbage remains behind like a homeless camp.

So for that reason, you really cannot trust anyone here illegally, because you don’t know what the drug cartels are threatening to their families far away. The same goes for Chinese here illegally. You don’t know the hold on people the Chinese govt has on its illegals in the US, or the legals with family still in China. Or Al Qaeda for that matter. We are under constant threat of Chinese moles stealing our technology, Mexicans corrupting our public safety organizations with huge bribes, and the threat of Middle Eastern religious zealots planning to kill infidels in the name of Allah.

The forest fire fighting deal is lucrative enough to fund a whole lot of other stuff in the off season. If we looked hard enough, it would be found out. However, the liberal mindset that sees that as profiling and/or discrimination prevails, and nothing is done. That is how the Sicilian mob, the Italian mob, the Jewish mob, the Russian mob, and the Mexican drug cartels have been protected by lawyers for years. They play the victim. And make us the real victims.

That the Klamath NF, the Six Rivers, Trinity, and the rest are in flames is the predicted result of public policy. I can’t see why there would be any Presidential, Gubernatorial, or Congressional concern. It is their public policy, and it is working just as predicted. Live with it!!! California is getting exactly what they wanted. Maybe this part of it was not explained as well as it might be, but dissent is not allowed under the Big Tent of Democrat Party rule. And there should not be any this time. The fires are what they wanted. They are what they managed for. These are the results of real policy decisions, and should so be noted. You get what you ask for. If you ask someone to pour a bucket of water over your head, you cannot say that getting wet was not a part of the bargain. You don’t remove fuel, and you will get fire. It is only a matter when. That public policy has been in place for decades in California. The fires only happened at this level this year. Next year might be different, but the fuels will accumulate as the trees and brush grow and die. If there are few fires in a particular year it is not because of public policy but because the perfect storm of dry lightening and drought did not occur. But it will, sometime, and then the hand wringing can begin anew.

So to the Big Green NGOs, Democrat policy makers, hangers on, do-nothing governments, quit bothering me with your problems. You are dying the death of a thousand cuts, all self inflicted, and I am tired of witnessing it, and hearing about it, and hearing about what an ass I am because I will not march to your drummers, to your tune, to your insane idea of a drug riddled flaming wasteland Eden. Sorry about the house, the personal items, the sacred places you wanted to be there forever. But you killed them, not me. Live with it.



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