William Simpson: The Deforestation Of America

Capt. William E. Simpson II – USMM Ret. contributed the following opinion article to Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities.

The current trend in the deforestation across America is alarming to say the least. And considering the lack of the implementation of effective cost-efficient pre-fire management strategies, one has to wonder; is there a method to this madness?
It turns out that there may be a plausible reason that the lackadaisical way that forests are managed is not openly discussed, and it has to do with money, lots of money.
It’s seems the U.S. cattle industry has been given a big shot in the arm by President Trump and that China will be buying a whole lot of American beef, while Americans get pre-cooked Chinese chicken, as we learn in this USA Today story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2017/05/14/american-meat-farmers-buoyed-china-deals/101606870
“Starting later this year, U.S. cattle ranchers will be able to sell their beef in China, which has refused American imports since the mad cow disease breakout in 2003. Trade bans of U.S. beef around the world, including China, contributed to the value of U.S. beef exports falling from $3 billion in 2003 to $1.1 billion in 2004, according to trade publication Food Safety News.”
Of course, even with this pending deal, one of the biggest obstacles facing the U.S. beef industry is the cost of production due to extremely limited cost-effective grazing. Grazing cattle on public lands is the holy-grail of beef production since it is the cheapest. The costs related to grazing on private lands due to property taxes, etc., hits the bottom-line hard and increases the cost of goods sold. So grazing on public lands (BLM & USFS) is the most cost effective method.
However, the available grazing permits are essentially fully allocated already!  So what can be done?
In other parts of the world forests have been intentionally burned to create more cheap grazing lands, as we learn in this article: http://www.fao.org/3/a-a0262e.pdf
And to some extent, that is already happening right here in America! When forests burn these areas are converted to range lands for decades, sometimes permanently.
According to an informative article in National Geographic: (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/08/150809-wildfires-forest-fires-climate-change-science )
“Supersize fires are burning up bird habitat, killing trees, and turning forests into open range.”

Is it possible that there are some people in and around our Government who are intentionally standing idle or doing as little as possible while American forests burn? Is it possible that the deforestation of America is part of someone’s twisted plan to make money?

I have to believe that environmentalists, even the most reasonable ones, won’t stand for any planned deforestation to benefit cheap grazing for the livestock industry. It is not the highest best use of publicly owned resources.

If this was found to be true at any level, it would one of the most financially reckless gambits in order to support a tiny minority of ‘special interests’. Even if the U.S. Beef industry was ultimately boosted by the China beef deal to a factor of double its all-time high annual revenue, that’s $6-billion from the high of $3-billion annually. The cost of just fighting the wildfires exceeds that when we combine local, state and Federal monies used… taxpayer money.

Then we have to factor-in the losses that are attributed to lost forest and forest-resources; trees, lumber, jobs and general recreation are obvious.
What is not immediately obvious are the losses from damaged watersheds and fisheries, for instance: When a megafire burns a forest the watershed is damaged for many decades. This adversely affects ground water and the quality of surface waters for municipal use (drinking water). Fisheries are damaged by the thousands of tons of mud and ash that wash into the creeks and streams during the fall rains damaging the spawning beds for trout and salmon and suffocating fish eggs. Of course this effects inshore and offshore fisheries and related ecosystems.
Millions of animals are killed in these large wildfires, and that includes deer, elk and moose. These large herbivores are already in short supply (generally) and their depleted populations are a key reason that we are seeing these massive wildfires taking hold in America, since they along with other large herbivores like wild horses, evolved in North America and greatly affect the amount of fuels (grasses and brush) in and around forests . The science that supports this fact in incontrovertible:
“By altering the quantity and distribution of fuel supplies, large herbivores can shape the frequency, intensity, and spatial distribution of fires across a landscape. There are even unique interactions among large herbivore populations that can influence fire regimes. For example, facilitative interactions between white rhinoceros and mesoherbivores result in reduced fuel loads and fuel continuity, and consequently fewer large, intense fires (71). Other factors can influence the frequency and intensity of fires, particularly in locations where the total area burned is strongly related to ungulate population size. For example, Serengeti wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) populations irrupted after the rinderpest virus was eradicated in the 1960s, and the subsequent increase in grazing pressure led to a widespread reduction in the extent of fires and delayed recovery of tree populations (72). The removal of plant biomass by browsing also reduces fire fuel loads and decreases fire susceptibility. Thus, there is scant evidence of fire in much of Australia until the megafauna disappeared after humans arrived (5).”
The further depletion of large game animals by wildfires adversely affects the hunting industry, and that industry alone accounts for $10-billion annually in America. Here again, that revenue is more than triple the all-time high revenue of the entire U.S. cattle industry.
According to one 2009 fire-cost report: (http://www.iawfonline.org/FIRE%20COSTS%20REPORT.pdf)

“US Forest Service and other local, State, Federal, and Tribal government wildfire suppression costs have also escalated dramatically, to nearly $2 billion/year. Preliminary research indicates that USFS suppression costs may represent only 2-10% of the total “cost-plus-loss” damages to burned forests, however; recent public losses attributable to major forest wildfires may total $20 billion to $100 billion/year (or possibly more).”

The current forest management paradigm stinks (and may even be suspect) and the deforestation of America proves it beyond any debate. Right now, with the given management methods, large areas of America will be deforested during the lifetimes of most readers; it’s only a matter of ‘how much’ and ‘how fast’ we lose it.

The only thing that can change the trajectory of this rolling train-wreck is an innovative pre-fire management paradigm (prevention is half the battle), which integrates new and cost effective methodologies.

One such novel pre-fire management methodology has been recently unveiled and is called the Wild Horse Fire Brigade (#WHFB): https://www.horsetalk.co.nz/2017/07/08/fighting-fires-wild-horses
Wild Horse Fire Brigade is endorsed by numerous scientists, tens of thousands of people as well as two noted radio talk show hosts; Bill Meyer (KMED), and Lars Larson, who spoke with the author of this new and exciting initiative on his show (live show recording): http://www.larslarson.com/wildfires-rage-horses-come-rescue.


William Simpson: The Deforestation Of America