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Doublespeak in the Woods

Remember "Healthy Forests"? This was one of the euphonious program names hatched by Karl Rove or another of the Bush wordsmiths to mask a real purpose. There was also the Clear Skies Initiative, which actually aimed to weaken the Clean Air Act.

Healthy Forests argued that the best way to control wildlfire and protect rural communities was to thin the forests of dead brush and sick trees, such growth having accumulated to dangerous levels owing to decades of fire suppression.

Fair enough, but many scientists and environmental advocates argued that Healthy Forests was really a smoke screen (forgive me) aimed at obscuring the fact that much of the planned "thinning" would be far from human settlements and would in fact involve logging big, living, valuable trees.

Well, comes now a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by a Colorado fire ecologist named Tonia Schoennagel that corroborates the fears of the critics:

A tiny fraction of the thinning projects (she looked at more than 44,000 fuel reduction projects) took place at what's called the WUI—wildland-urban interface. The abstract of her study is here; the full study is available at a price. A fine summary from the Missoula Independent is here. George Ochenski, who wrote the Independent piece, throws in fascinating (and depressing) information about the effects of global warming on the northern Rockies woods as well.

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