Of Roads and Paint: Who Should We Trust to Manage Colorado’s Forests?

By William K. Olsen | On Feb 14, 2012 | 1 Comment | In Featured

Some fairly bright folks undoubtedly get hired-on as reporters at the New York Times; people well-schooled in the art of organizing and writing a news story that at least gives the appearance of striking a balance and conveying useful information. But most readers don’t know enough about the subject at hand to know whether they’re being led astray, taken for a ride, or just being misinformed by a writer who is in over his or her head. And so we asked Colorado forestry consultant Bill Olsen — someone who knows a great deal about managing high country forests and has thought a lot about whether Bill Clinton’s still-controversial “roadless rule” makes sense for the state of Colorado – to review a recent Times story suggesting that the state’s adoption of its own roadless plan somehow endangers federal forest. What follows is Olsen’s critique.

The Editor       


During countless discussions about eco-interventionism, a simple question frequently gets asked regarding the management of federal lands. Precisely where did someone living in New Jersey (which exit?) acquire any right, or even a smudge of the requisite knowledge, to proclaim intellectual superiority and caretaker status for management of U.S. Forest Service lands immediately adjacent to my own backyard in Colorado? And to where does that soul refer when attempting to wrap an intellectual handle around a term such as “roadless”?

New Jersey, of course, the home of great historic fire regimes that periodically return to raise havoc in contemporary newsrooms, is symbolic for many states beyond ours, but today Vermont may be added to the special contrast list. A New York Times key-tapper warned last week that the radical citizens of Colorado are being allowed to destroy their federal forests as we attempt to, apparently, skirt the most current incarnation of roadless rules (State Goes Its Own Way to Regulate Forest Roads

Omnipresent in this genre of environmental “reporting” are the key-tappers’ hidden agendas, primarily efforts to improve the world by placing their viewpoint front and center, with the helpful and timely insertions of carefully selected quotes from trusted mouthpieces. All stories have precisely two sides, they believe, and they consult their contact list of favorite available “experts” and cherry-pick that which fits their chosen thread.

The premise for writing the piece is presented early:

“But conservationists say the plan is much less protective of forestland and creates the likelihood that a state many Americans identify with the very aeries and woods the national rule was designed to protect could become a kind of orphan.”

Take a breath, relax, contemplate comma placement. Most Coloradans do not give a hoot about how we’re viewed from Manhattan, any more than we care about skyscraper density regulations and 42nd Street revitalization. Regarding “aeries,” we do not use that fancy word in Colorado, for we have better things to do and more to carry in the woods than dictionaries. We’re of the simple sort, and resolve only to flag out a nest rather than an aerie, or perhaps work to reduce fire hazard around a house high on a mountain, another form of aerie.

Quickly it is clear that the concern for literary flare and agenda will exceed pertinence and factual recitation. From the author we receive these two quotes.


“It would give Colorado, at the end of day, fewer protections than any other state,” said Jane Danowitz, director of the public lands program at the Pew Environment Group, a nonprofit organization in Washington. “It’s a runaway train.”

Vermont forestry expert:

“No question that in some respects it’s less protective,” said William S. Keeton, a professor of forestry and forest ecology at the University of Vermont… “The devil is in the details.”

Curious are the environmentalistisms, the parts about the devil and trains and all that. Of course, we here in the West are all just silly cowpokes and loggers and miners overcome with a genetic affinity for destruction. And speaking of destruction, allow a moment for me to stop the train and remove my horns and search for a random view of that which we wish to destroy:













Photo 1. Colorado lodgepole pine killed by mountain pine beetle.

Shown is a view of mountain pine beetle-killed lodgepole pine in northcentral Grand County, Colorado, a sea of dead trees as far as the eye can see on U.S. Forest Service lands.

Whilst I remember, do review the accompanying photo in the NYT piece, captioned “Dead pines can be seen near the state’s Peak to Peak Highway.” Darn tootin’ and game time. How many dead trees can you see? Hint: the patch of trees at center is precisely how aspen appears in the heart of winter. Leafless. Seriously, could not the NYT do better?

As for the good Doctor, it is difficult to understand where he is coming from, other than Vermont. Was he taken out of context and his quotes cherry-picked? There are certainly Doctors out there that come across as opposed to the very profession they inhabit. Doctor or not, around these parts, the overwhelming majority of forest managers, forest philosophers and forest users understand the imperative nature of both active forest manipulation and an access premise. Nonetheless, this Doctor should never have associated “less protective” as a direct and positive corollary with “roads”. In the photo above, access beyond pavement is severely limited. Has the absence of roads and forest management been protective, or less protective?

The author does manage to sprinkle a few vigrx plus results pro-destructionist quotes in the piece, such as that from a National Forest Supervisor:

“But he said the West, and maybe Colorado in particular, has also changed significantly in the intervening years. More people are living near national forests. An outbreak of pine-killing bark beetles that has its epicenter in Colorado and several major fires over those years that roared out to touch the edge of urban life have also changed thinking about intervention in the wild, Mr. Casamassa said.

‘Not only has the landscape changed, but also the view of what is appropriate to do in these areas,’ he said.”

Somehow this perspective was dramatically understated by the NYT. Folks in Colorado have had their eyes opened as a consequence of decades of inactive federal forest management, development of subsequent unprecedented forest conditions in both density and extent, followed by the equally unprecedented mountain pine beetle epidemic.













Photo 2. The close-in view of beetlekill that most do not see.


Dutifully, the NYT author points out the economic values in undisturbed Photos 1 and 2.

“But while environmental groups argue that special interests are trumping the public good, and that the state is underestimating the long-term economic value of undisturbed land, some state and federal officials say a special case for Colorado makes sense.”

Understatements abound. There is no public good in the above photos. We have literally lost the use of our forests — and by design. A quick review is relevant. These forests were historically of low density as a consequence of recurring fire, both natural (lightning) and man-caused (Indians). Those forests were in a perpetual state of disturbance. Then, in the late 19th century, periodic fire came to a screeching halt as a consequence of Indian eradication and fire suppression. We disturbed the forests by halting disturbances. Lodgepole pine hence did what lodgepole does best, which is regenerate like a banshee. Rather than substitute chainsaws, foresters and loggers as proxies for fire disturbance, we allowed the forests to grow to unprecedented densities and extent. Most stands were never thinned, which would have at minimum allowed for the growth of much larger trees that would have economic value. We know that managed stands are much less susceptible to mountain pine beetle attacks than unmanaged stands. Instead we ended up with very high numbers of skinny, dead, bent, cracked and falling trees. The feds, under the guidance of the distant, now own dead forests that are economically and aesthetically worthless, and for virtually any use one can dream of, they are an indisputable nightmare and safety conundrum. It is for these reasons that the process may be described as “by design”, for those that have objected over the decades to active forest management carry heavy responsibility for what has occurred.

There are two key management components that were broken. First, the ability of foresters to manage forests was seriously damaged by those that oppose everything. Second, without the ability to build roads, stand-and-stare management became the modus operandi, a sadly poor replacement for forest stewardship.

Let’s look back in time a mere 25 years ago, when in fact progress was being made to tackle the great non-disturbance problem.













Photo 3. Find the former clearcut.

Shown above, in Summit County, is a current photo of a 1980s clearcut that was installed in a lodgepole pine forest, identified as the green and yellow patch below the arrow. It contains the only green pine left on the hillside – regenerating aspen and lodgepole. There are many such views in Colorado, where entire mountainsides are dead except for the regeneration found in a past clearcut. And do not forget: a clearcut is a regeneration method and the only acceptable method for regenerating shade-intolerant lodgepole pine infested with dwarf mistletoe, a too-common and destructive parasitic plant.













Photo 4. Unmanaged road-free USFS wilderness behind a regenerated USFS clearcut.


In yet another Summit County view, Photo 4 shows the stark contrast between the green of a regenerated 1980s clearcut, and the brown of unmanaged beetle-killed timber literally as far as the eye can see, demonstrating the silliness of stand-and-stare management.

These sites have a common attribute: temporary roads were constructed to allow for the prerequisite access that enables active forest management. The forest stands with roads were protected. Forest stands without roads were left unprotected.

Capable of drawing a smile from all but the most irrelevant, within the sphere of foresters there resides a long-used sarcastic response to the endless barriers those of narrow mind attempt to plaster across the route to active forest management.

Clearcut. Pave. Paint green.

Refer back to Photos 3 and 4. Symbolically, that is exactly what happened.

The NYT author continues with a final concern from the do-nothings:

“Ms. Danowitz at the Pew group said part of her concern about Colorado was that other states might follow its example.”

The Pews are located in Washington, D.C., and they do not know a darn thing about my back yard, nor yours.

The experiment in socialist forest management from afar has failed. Forest access and management policies must be decided locally, and not by those that are distant and wholly immune to the consequences of stand-and-stare management.


Bill Olsen is a private consulting forester who lives and works in Colorado. Write to him at



Written by William K. Olsen

1 Comment

  • Mr. Olsen is clearly in the community of scholars who isn’t following the money as the junk scientists do. He would be well suited to the title Father of Forest Management.

    If we’re on our way to restoration of balance and reason in the debate about environmental issues then possibly its not too late to restore the damage thats been done to our forests by the improperly educated junk-scientists.

    Higher Education and Human Capital – Rethinking the Doctorate in America. Copyright 2011.
    The first sentence on the back cover starts with “This book attempts to re-imagine the purpose of the doctorate which has historically been used to prepare leaders who will work to improve the sciences…” “HISTORICALLY been used to prepare leaders” is correct where natural resources and environmental issues are concerned.

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