Colorado looks to logging to help rebalance forests in an era of climate-triggered megafires — The #Loveland Reporter-Herald

Photo credit: Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, http://dnrc.mt.gov/divisions/forestry/forestry-assistance/pest-management

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley) via The Loveland Reporter-Herald:

Clearing swaths of trees creates fire breaks and helps take energy out of wildfires, state forest official says

“The consequences of inaction”

Colorado’s population growth and development boom, particularly the construction of mountain homes by people compelled to escape cities, complicates the forest imbalance. Houses in woods force progressively more aggressive fire-snuffing, which allows more increased thickening of trees.

A recent state report estimated a $4.2 billion backlog in forest-thinning needed to selectively clear trees and create safety buffers around the most at-risk forest homes. That’s tree removal that state agencies and property owners generally must pay for — in contrast to this industrial logging that brings in revenue when market conditions are right.

Last week, state foresters supervising the cutting of a 100-acre patch on Owl Mountain, within a 376-acre parcel controlled mostly by the federal Bureau of Land Management, pointed to the economics — revenue of about $200,000 to state and federal agencies from loggers. And even if logging wasn’t profitable, every dollar spent removing trees from fire-prone forests would save an estimated $7 in avoided firefighting costs, Steamboat Springs-based forester Carolina Manriquez said.

“Now we have 200,000-acre fires rolling through. What is 100 acres? Nothing at the landscape scale,” Manriquez said. “We need to do more of this. I mean, we’re spending millions to suppress fires.”

Colorado forests that increasingly burn, along with millions of acres where beetle-kill leaves trees unusable, might have helped sustain logging companies, said C.J. Pittington, a Walden-based logger running a 40-ton red feller-buncher last week clearing a 140-acre chunk of state land. He can mow through about 5 acres of lodgepole forest in a day and has built up a business his father began in 1973, currently employing a dozen workers, and expressed hope the big fires will lead to greater social acceptance of large-scale logging.

Logging in forests near sprawling mountain municipalities also will help protect people, Pittington said, referring to the East Troublesome fire’s destruction of 300 homes and other buildings…

Future expansion of logging in northwestern Colorado will depend on industrial capacity, said John Twitchell, the supervisory state forester overseeing the work, who also serves on the state’s forest advisory commission.

“Our logging industry has been small. We haven’t had a lot of users of the wood. Our capacity to use wood will dictate how much work we can do on our landscapes,” Twitchell said.

“We want to re-generate a new, healthy forest. As long as this dead timber is here, inevitably, it is going to fall… and in time it will burn,” he said. “We’ve seen the consequences of inaction. … If we can have more cuts like this, we can accomplish a lot of goals at once.”

“A storm of threats”

But forest ecologists raised concerns about the logging. Industrial clear-cuts of 40 acres or more widely have been seen as harmful. Lodgepole forests like those in northwestern Colorado play key roles in nature — stabilizing mountainsides that otherwise erode into streams and eventually municipal reservoirs, helping form soil, giving habitat for raptors and other wild animals.

“If it is just willy-nilly punching holes in forests, it may not do any good at all and may make things worse,” said Greg Aplet, a Denver-based senior scientist for the Wilderness Society.

Forest tree-cutting must be done based on large landscape-scale master plans, connected to broad restoration around the East Troublesome and Cameron Peak burn scars, he said. The risk is that Colorado forest officials, once beetle-killed lodgepole pines are removed from state land, will try to expand cutting on private and federal land by “using social concern about fires to grab the social license to conduct more logging without the kind of review and careful ecological analysis that normally would attend large-scale logging,” Aplet said.

“The Wilderness Society isn’t opposed to logging. We’re not opposed to ‘forest management.’ What we are opposed to is bogus science, poorly-planned projects and squandering money that could be spent on treatments that actually improve forest health,” he said. “There is reason to keep sawmills alive — so that we have a destination for the logs that come out of well-planned forest restoration projects.”

University of Colorado Denver forest ecologist Diana Tomback said much depends on how much forest thinning is done and where. When westerners began snuffing wildfires a century ago, this obligated some form of logging to replace disturbed natural processes, Tomback said. But large clear-cuts cause erosion and even standing majority-dead forests can be preferable ecologically, she said.

“A storm of threats” — climate warming, megafires, insect outbreaks and drought — “is converging now to greatly diminish our nation’s once-magnificent forests,” Tomback said, suggesting Gov. Jared Polis should convene a forest science brain trust to develop a strategy.

“This convergence… is new, and we are learning. And the answers may not all be there,” he said. “But we need a methodical approach. We have to sit down and talk about a new forest management paradigm. We don’t want to do things ad hoc.”

Federal forest managers at U.S. Forest Service headquarters weren’t available for comment. A newly-appointed regional director has declined for a month to discuss the overall health of Colorado forests in the face of climate warming, insect infestations and wildfires.

Lester was looking to make that connection. Most of the acres burned this year were in federally-managed forests, he said, urging better “shared stewardship.”

Polis recently proposed spending $6 million for grants to improve forest health, but the scale of work to save dying forests requires far more, Lester said.

“What do we need from the feds? Certainly we need financial resources. And we need to sit down and coordinate what we are going to do. How are we going to get this done?”

Secular ‘values voters’ are becoming an electoral force in the US – just look closely at 2020’s results


Being counted – secular voters are a growing force.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Phil Zuckerman, Pitzer College

The voting patterns of religious groups in the U.S. have been scrutinized since the presidential election for evidence of shifting allegiances among the faithful. Many have wondered if a boost in Catholic support was behind Biden’s win or if a dip in support among evangelicals helped doom Trump.

But much less attention has been paid to one of the largest growing demographics among the U.S. electorate, one that has increased from around 5% of Americans to over 23% in the last 50 years: “Nones” – that is, the nonreligious.

I am a scholar of secularism in the U.S., and my focus is on the social and cultural presence of secular people – nonreligious people such as atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers and those who simply don’t identify with any religion. They are an increasingly significant presence in American society, one which inevitably spills into the political arena.

In this last election, the emerging influence of secular voters was felt not only at the presidential level, but also on many down-ballot issues.

The new ‘values voters’

For years, both scholars and pundits have referred to the political impact of “values voters” in America. What that designation generally refers to are religious men and women whose scripturally based values coagulate around issues such as opposing marriage equality and women’s reproductive autonomy.

But dubbing such religious voters as “values voters” is a real semantic bamboozle. While it is true that many religious Americans maintain certain values that motivate their voting behavior, it is also very much the case that secular Americans also maintain their own strongly held values. My research suggests they vote on these values with just as much motivation as the religious.

Sex education

This played out in November in a number of ballot initiatives that have flown under the national media radar.

Voters in Washington state, for example, passed Referendum 90, which requires that students receive sex education in all public schools. This was the first time that such a measure was ever on a state ballot, and it passed with ease – thanks, in part, to the significant number of nonreligious voters in the Pacific Northwest.

The fact is, Washington is one of the least religious states in the union. Well over a third of all Washingtonians do not affiliate with any religion, more than a third never pray and almost 40% never attend religious services.

The referendum’s passing was helped by the fact that nonreligious adults tend to value comprehensive sex education. Numerous studies have found that secular Americans are significantly more likely to support comprehensive sex education in school. In his research, sociologist Mark Regnerus found that secular parents were generally much more comfortable – and more likely – to have open and frank conversations with their children about safe sex than religious parents.

Drugs policy

Meanwhile, voters in Oregon – another Pacific Northwestern state that contains one of the most secular populations in the country – passed Measure 110, the first ever statewide law to decriminalize the possession and personal use of drugs.

This aligns with research showing that nonreligious Americans are much more likely to support the decriminalization of drugs than their religious peers. For instance, a 2016 study from Christian polling firm Barna found that 66% of evangelicals believe that all drugs should be illegal as did 43% of other Christians, but only 17% of Americans with no religious faith held such a view.

Science at the ballot box

Secular people are generally more trusting of scientific empiricism, and various studies have shown that the nonreligious are more likely to accept the evidence behind human-generated climate change. This translates to support for politicians and policies that take climate change seriously.

It may also have factored in to the success of a November ballot measure in Denver, Colorado, to fund programs that eliminate greenhouse gases, fight air pollution and actively adapt to climate change. The ballot passed with over 62% of the vote – and it is of note that Denver is one of the most secular cities in the nation.

Meanwhile voters in California – another area of relative secularity – passed Proposition 14 supporting the funding of stem cell research, the state being one of only a handful that has a publicly funded program. Pew studies have repeatedly found that secular Americans are far more likely than religious Americans to support stem cell research.

Values versus values

On issues that the religious right has held some sway in recent years, there is evidence of a counterbalance among secular “value voters.”

For example, while the religious have been more likely to oppose same-sex marriage, secular Americans are more likely to support it, and by significant margins. A recent Pew study found that 79% of secular Americans are supportive, compared to 66% of white mainline Protestants, 61% of Catholics, 44% of Black Protestants and 29% of white evangelicals.

There are many additional values that are prominent among secular Americans. For example, the U.S. Secular Survey of 2020 – the largest survey of nonreligious Americans ever conducted, with nearly 34,000 participants – found strong support for safeguarding the separation of church and state.

Other studies have found that secular Americans strongly support women’s reproductive rights, women working in the paid labor force, the DACA program, death with dignity and opposition to the death penalty.

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Secular surge

According to Eastern Illinois University professor Ryan Burge’s data analysis, around 80% of atheists and agnostics and 70% of those who described their religion as “nothing in particular” voted for Biden.

This may have been decisive. As Professor Burge argues, “it’s completely fair to say that these shifts generated a two percentage-point swing for Biden nationwide. There were five states where the gap between the candidates was less than two percentage points (Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina). Four of those five went for the Biden – and the nones were between 28% and 37% of the population in those key states.”

As this past election has shown, secular values are not only alive and well, but they are more pronounced than ever. It is also noteworthy that more openly nonreligious candidates were elected to public office than ever before. According to an analysis by the atheist author and activist Hemant Mehta, not only did every member of the secular Congressional Freethought Caucus win reelection, but 10 state senators who are openly secular – that is, they have made it publicly known that they are nonreligious – were voted into office, up from seven two years ago. There is now an all-time high of 45 openly secular state representatives nationwide, according to Mehta’s analysis. Every one of them is a Democrat.

Religious voters will certainly continue to vote their values – and for politicians that express similar views. But so, I argue, will secular voters.The Conversation

Phil Zuckerman, Professor of Sociology and Secular Studies, Pitzer College

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.