An initiative called the Pine Mountain project is causing controversy and is facing opposition from both environmental activists and locals in the western part of the United States.
The Pine Mountain project calls for the culling of trees to carve a cleared line spanning more than 700 acres. In response, a coalition of organizations has formed to oppose the plan, citing concerns over the potential harm to ecosystems and the lack of faith in the project’s approval process. The coalition includes the Center for Biological Diversity, Los Padres Forest Watch, Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation, local businesses, and county supervisors.
The Case for the Pine Mountain Project
Forest officials in favor of the project say the culling is a strategy that will enable them to protect forest health, safeguard the habitats of animals, and even slow the onslaught of wildfires that have ravaged much of the western US.
They argue that there is strong scientific agreement that makes this treatment essential for crowded forests. They also say the federal government, which manages about 57% of California forests, is grossly behind in the use of the strategy.
The death and drying of underbrush feeds high-intensity wildfires, making the dangers difficult to contain and making it more likely for charred moonscapes to be left behind, which takes a heavy toll on ecosystems. Officials believe the project will clear the underbrush and prevent fires from getting out of control and turning into infernos.
More Projects May Be Needed
A small percentage of California’s 33 million acres of forests are treated each year and scientists are recommending more thinning to take place.
The hot and dry seasons are becoming longer each year and experts fear the window for conducting similar treatments is getting smaller. The projects are being delayed due to legal battles with environmental advocates and California has only completed half of the fuel treatments that have been planned for the state. Scientists are saying this is a big problem.
Pine Mountain Project Moving Forward
Although there is much opposition, the Pine Mountain Project has been pushing forward. The main targets for culling will be trees with a circumference between 18 and 24 inches. The fire break is far from the nearest town because it’s intended to stop flames from reaching sensitive habitats of threatened animals such as the California condor and spotted owl. The plans will also enable the agency to manage and protect land far beyond the project perimeter.
There will be tradeoffs, though. Native plants will have to be pulled from the ground and trees that provide habitat for various animal species and plants will be taken out. Hundreds of acres of chaparral shrubs — along with the rich, diverse ecosystem they support — will be cut through. These will be short-term sacrifices, though, with a vision for huge, long-term gains.
Chaparral shrubs burn differently. When they catch fire, everything is burned and the fire frequently leaves behind an ashen landscape. Close to half of the Pine Mountain project’s 314-acre perimeter is covered by chaparral.
Is a Hands-Off Approach Better?
Bryan Baker, the conservation director with Los Padres Forest Watch believes that a hands-off approach to the problem would be better, even if it means letting the landscapes as they are now go. He believes that the landscape is dynamic and worries that human intervention will lead to even more losses.
He along with other critics believe a deeper assessment is required before making such a drastic decision.
There are also concerns that the US Forest Service (USFS) is green-lighting a logging project under the guise of restoration. Will this project open the area to industry interests?
At Karmagawa and SaveTheReef we’re sad that culling trees even has to be an option. Either way, ecosystems are in danger and it’s all because of how humans are treating the planet. We only have one and we need to make sure we treat it better … not only for the animals but for our families and friends as well.
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What do you think about the Pine Mountain project and the plan to cull large areas of trees? Leave a comment below.
Cover Image: Ventu Photo/Shutterstock