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Inquiring Minds

Inquiring Minds - Restoring Forests

Flagstaff, AZ –
Dr. Wally Covington says too many little trees are causing big problems in the ponderosa pine forest.

This is Inquiring Minds, insights from the campus of Northern Arizona University.

For (almost 4) decades, Regents' Professor Dr. Wally Covington has been making the case that today's Southwestern ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests are in widespread decline. He explains that before pioneers arrived, the forest looked and acted differently than it does today. Covington's research shows the forest was open. Big, old trees grew in clumps. Grasses and wildflowers covered sunlit meadows. Ground fires cleaned up the forest floor. A hundred years ago, there were 10, 30 maybe 50 trees per acre. Today, there are hundreds of small diameter trees suffocating millions of forested acres, and lining up like matchsticks.

TRACK 36 3:15 - 3:27 Covington: "Instead of natural fires, we're getting unnatural fires. Instead of a self-regulating forest we've got a forest that is so out of whack that there's not much that can be done when you get a lightning strike and have heavy winds."

Covington has documented how wildfires have grown in size and intensity. By the 1960s fire was getting into the treetops. By the 90s crown fires had grown to tens of thousands of acres. In the last decade, the worst fire storms in Arizona history burn hundreds of thousands of acres.

NAU's Ecological Restoration Institute executive director says we're running out of time to restore forest health. But he sees opportunity in a restoration economy, where excess trees carve out jobs and products.

Covington: "One of that I'm particularly excited about is biomass utilization to produce electricity. Here on our campus at Northern Arizona University President Haeger has had as a goal getting the campus to a carbon neutral status, so it's not relying on fossil

Covington burns with hope for forests that are assets, instead of liabilities, for future generations.