National Forests: Building a Better Land Ethic

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U.S. Forest Chief Mike Dombeck has fallen in love with every national forest he's been to.

Do you think there should be recreational limits in national forests and parks?

All of our activities need to be within the boundary of long-term sustainability. We must work within the limits of the land if we want to realize the benefits generation after generation.

Do you think there should be a shift toward a more universally simple lifestyle?

Well, a simple lifestyle has always been one of my dreams. I do think that we should be as sufficient as we possibly can. And just as we need to support a land ethic, we need to help people understand why our land ethic is an important aspect of living by the land.

What are your thoughts on alternative home building?

I think we ought to continue to research technology to see different ways of building and to look at the progress we’ve made so far; a lot of times we don’t give ourselves credit for the progress we have been making. The fact is we’re getting two-and-a-half times the use out of the same volume of wood today as we did at the turn of the century. This is [a result of] everything from our efficiency in milling operations to the utilization of a smaller diameter of wood. Oftentimes, use of substitute material for wood–whether it’s steel, aluminum or plastic–consumes far more energy in the production process and has a more adverse impact on the environment than wood.

Would you like to continue the marked decrease of the government’s clear-cutting as a way to harvest trees?

The fact is, we’re doing about 70% less clear-cutting today than we did in the late 1980s. We need to, I think, realize that nature has always been a mosaic of ecological states. Where I’m getting to is I think we need to look at our landscape and decide what it is that we want; what is it, and how do we get there. Apply the science and a whole variety of approaches–maybe thinning, maybe prescribed fire, maybe harvest salvage, or more likely a combination of these–and continually evaluate our goals. I think there is a place for clear-cutting on a much smaller scale.

What’s your favorite wildlife/forest area?

Obviously, I’m biased. I think I’m the only chief who grew up in a national forest. But the thing is, I love the woods and I have yet to travel to a national forest that I didn’t just absolutely fall in love with. The more I get to see the beauty that’s out there, the more appreciation I have for the diversity that’s out there.

What’s your favorite place to fish?

I’m not fussy when it comes to where I can fish. Do you know that 75% of the recreation that occurs in the outdoors occurs within a half-mile of water? As we deal with the increasing recreation values, one of the things I always like to ask myself is: Of what value will we be? And by “we” I mean [the national forests]. What will be the importance of the national forests to the American public in the coming years?