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MONDAY, APRIL 4, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Forest Service should test its burn plan's effectiveness

The U.S. Forest Service is about to embark on a burn program that could prove either beneficial or disastrous to our national forests.

If it's beneficial, that would be wonderful for both the forests and the people who enjoy them.

If it's a disaster, it could hurt our forests for years to come.

The problem with this program is that it's untested.

The service is about to go against the teachings of Smokey Bear. Employees are going to set controlled burns in forest areas, hoping to clear underbrush and non-native flora, a move they hope will help the native trees to flourish.

The service has shown that protecting a forest too much can be as dangerous as no protection at all. By managing fires from natural causes, such as lightning, or even arson, undergrowth has flourished. This growth chokes out seedlings and leaches nourishment larger trees need. It also is fuel for catastrophic wildfires.

The service should first be commended for wanting to take care of this problem. Then, it should be chastised for the way it plans to go about it.

The Forest Service is about to burn 19,000 acres of the Daniel Boone National Forest this month. That will eventually increase to burns of up to 50,000 acres each year.

It's possible this burn philosophy could come to Bankhead National Forest.

Controlled burns of this extent have never been tested. The service has no idea what damage it might do to old stands of native trees. Timber interests say such a burn will damage trees such as native oaks, causing them to rot from the inside.

We must agree with environmental groups that urge smaller test burns and several years of observation before embarking on the massive burns that could damage the good trees while destroying the bad elements.

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