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Forest bears scars of nature

A trip on Monday to Yosemite National Park left us shocked at the number of dead and burned trees in the park and along the roads leading to it.

Fires, the drought and bark beetles have taken their toll.

A census of dead trees along the Sierra Nevada has come up with a number that’s numbing — 67 million. How can that many trees even be conceived? Unbelievable.

Yet, if you want proof of it, go to eastern Madera County and you will see destruction wrought by natural forces that is unparalleled in recent memory. Not all the trees are gone yet, but in many areas, the destruction is beyond repair.

The areas within Yosemite National Park itself remain relatively, although not entirely, pristine, but just behind a carefully cared-for facade of green is the reality of what fire and drought and disease can do.

The damage is so wide spread, the only long-term solution to restoring the forest may be clear-cutting — at least clear-cutting of the most damaged areas, and there are plenty of those to be seen.

Selective logging wouldn’t work because there is so much damage. The effect would be the same as clear-cutting, but much of the timber couldn’t be utilized because of the wreckage that selective-logging practices could cause.

Clear-cutting can be followed by efficient replanting that can accelerate new growth in a forest that’s being restored.

The problem with clear-cutting is that the public in general doesn’t like the way it looks. When the forest is clear-cut, it has the appearance of having been mowed down, and continues to look that way until the new growth takes hold, which can take a few years. But the advantage to clear-cutting is the forest floor is opened to sunshine and rainfall that hasten the growth of newly planted trees. Clear-cutting is a time-honored practice of bringing damaged forests back to life with the least destruction of still-standing trees.

It’s also the way many commercial timber companies handle their forests to maximize growth.

Some would say that the best practice would be to leave those 67 million dead trees alone and let them rot, fall over and die, but that would do nothing to restore forests that are regarded as national treasures.

That practice probably would mean those forests would never be restored to their greatness of only a few years ago.

Some sort of modified, clear-cutting practice might work if it is applied soon, before the next big fire and disease season takes hold, or before the drought does even more damage, turning the trees of the Sierra Nevada into little more than tinder for subsequent blazes.

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