Pine bark beetle proves you can't fool Mother Nature

We're seeing the wisdom of that old saying right now with the worst-ever pine bark beetle epidemic in Arizona history.

See, these voracious little bugs are doing the job that U.S. Forest Service officials and private logging companies should have been doing for decades — thinning out the forest.

Before wildland fire suppression became the No. 1 priority for forest officials in the early 1900s, Mother Nature had its own way of keeping the forest's health in check with averages of 60 to 80 trees per acre. Today in our own Prescott National Forest — one of the hardest-hit regions of the pine bark beetle epidemic — there are areas where there are as many of 800 ponderosa pines in a single acre.

It's a problem professional Forest Service land managers have complained about for decades. Their hands were tied in doing this crucial job, however, because of the strong influence environmental groups such as the Sierra Club held over Washington lawmakers. If it wasn't the Mexican spotted owl that kept the forests from being properly thinned out, it was some other ridiculous red herring that environmental groups held over the heads of lawmakers.

It all caught up with us this past year. First, there was the devastation of the Rodeo-Chedeski Fire that consumed 465,000 acres of forest land.

But even worse has been the beetle epidemic, which has eaten its way through 508,000 acres of forest land. The conditions could not have been more perfect for pine bark beetles. You have way too many drought-plagued ponderosa pines. Those conditions made the trees as appetizing to the beetles as an all-you-can-eat buffet would be for the contestants on TV's Survivor series.

Let's hope this past year of wildfires all through the western states combined with the pine bark beetle epidemic will teach Washington lawmakers an important lesson.

Professional forest land managers are exactly that — professional. They do not promote the thinning of the forests to line the pockets of private logging companies. They do it because it is in the best interests of healthy, well-managed public lands.

We've made a big mistake in allowing tree-huggers to dictate policy for the U.S. Forest Service.

In fact, it caught up with us in a big way in Year 2002.

That should not surprise us.

After all, you can't fool Mother Nature.


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