I would like you to stay with me for a story. Before the story is finished you will realize that it may be the most informative Timber / Forest Service story you have ever heard. I swear it is totally true and factual. If I dug deep enough into my shed, I would find the receipts and other critical data to back it up, the shed is full and the data is at least 10 feet from the door – a dangerous place to go.
First, I would like to throw out a fancy term: “Thermally activated dihydrogen monoxide.” That is just another way of saying “warm water.” So when I tell you as an engineer I was the Plant Foreman for a process called “Thermally coupled enzymatic hydraulysis” which was the official name of the process, you know it may not be as fancy as it sounds. What we really made was a cream colored, creamy textured, low odor fish fertilizer. If you find fish fertilizer on the shelves, it has had the same basic treatment that we used except that it was processed at a much higher temperature (140º), made at a thousand gallons a day and is dark and stinky (smells like rotted fish.) Our product was made at 110º slowly at just 100 gallons a day. A fishing team using big nets would bring in carp from the Snake River, the carp would go through several stages of grinding, travel through a transfer unit that coupled heat from steam into the fish, and then on to the processing. Enzymes would be dripped into the fish and it would go through a series of digesters to be liquefied and then on to more processing. At the end of the total operation was a product that could be diluted and sprayed from a crop duster without neighbors complaining about the smell. Now you have the background.
Now, on to the story. One day in May 1992 Jim and Fred showed up in uniform at our Payette, Idaho processing plant. A friend of a friend had told Jim about our product and what wonders it did for his sick fruit trees. These two men in their Forest Service uniforms wanted to try it. So we supplied all the information and they returned in two days with check in hand and a 100 gallon plastic container on the back of a Forest Service truck. We filled their tank from ours and sent them on their way. They headed back to their Wallowa-Whitman Forest Service office and got with a crop duster friend. Jim and Fred showed up a few days later with the tank of fertilizer. The crop duster tried a few gallons and said it clogged his nozzles. He was going to go to a slightly higher nozzle size, but wanted us to re-screen the product. We ran it through a tighter vibrating mesh and returned it to their tank. Jim and Fred left to apply the fish to a stand of fir trees under siege from beetles and drought. Time went by and we nearly had forgotten about that sale.
One day, again in uniform, Jim and Fred returned. The owner of the plant and I were in the office when they came in all smiles and totally excited. During the past 4 months the trees became healthy and the beetles were almost non-existent. They said that was great and all they had hoped for. But their real excitement was from what happened next. A forest fire was in the region and had topped out, or was “crowning.” When the fire got to the sprayed trees it was no longer crowning and burned only along the ground cleaning the area; in other words, the perfect cleansing fire leaving healthy trees behind. Jim and Fred said they planned to submit the results to “higher-ups” and get funding to spray more of the forest. Sounded just fine to us. They left, we were happy to have learned the true value of our product, and we did not see them again for a long time.
One day Jim showed up at the office in just jeans and an old shirt. He was there unofficially just to tell us what happened. When they submitted their data and a request for more funding they were called into the office of their boss. They were told in no uncertain terms the following: They did not use fish on the trees. They did not see any benefits of such an action even if they had done so. To say anything about the project would be considered an act of sedition and severe penalties could result.
Jim went on to explain that each year they submit a budget request based on money spent through the year and expected costs in the upcoming year. Simply put, a budget is submitted each year about 10% higher than the last budget request. What the fish fertilizer did was show a way to protect the trees and the wildlife and in the process totally destroy the Forest Service budget. Think about firefighting. Currently the Federal cost of fighting just the national forest fires is greater than $ 1 Billion annually. That does not include national or state parks, BLM fires, or fires encroaching on homes and businesses. Those are all funded separately. It is not just the firefighting directly that the money is spent on. Consider firefighting crews hired in the summers, all the food, all the equipment and all the mismanagement. To use a simple and cost effective method to save the forests would destroy the Federal Budget for fighting fires. People would not get hired, equipment – including C-130's – would be sold at auction, and worst of all, Senior Forest Service personnel would be put into early retirement at lower pay since the new budget would not be able to support a government structure with too many chiefs and not enough.... well you know how it all goes.
The beetle invasion of the West is important for another reason. It allows the expenditure of funds in ways that, in the long run do not work. This will help maintain the Forest Service budgets. Using the beetle infestation as an excuse to continue logging prevents the natural evolution of the people of the region. Wherein one generation just cleared some ground and lived off the land, mostly from the forest critters, the next generation learned to use large 2-people saws to harvest timber for local mills. The next generations changed to allow greater cutting of the forests to feed large regional mills. When the big mills closed, that generation evolved into learning maintaining a small residence and living off the land. This in turn led to the next evolution which was to maintain a healthy forest for tourism and working at the well known tourist traps; including, but not limited to: Forest excursions, fishing, dining, boat trips, and many more. Unfortunately, the lessons of clear cutting have been learned. The carbon exchange system takes several generations of trees to get reestablished and until then, Montana, Idaho, Eastern Oregon, and Washington do not have any "really" healthy trees. Thus, the beetles invade, but the fish product (natural, organic, non-toxic) that I used to produce would create the healthy trees, reestablish the carbon transfer chain between trees and rid the forests of the beetles.
That is the story and I hope you stayed with it to the end. It is a true story. Now you can believe it or not but you can certainly see for yourself the proof of it. Keep in mind that it officially never happened and you will not be able to get anyone to confirm it. So, look for yourself. Bring up Google Earth, and in the block titled “Fly to...” type in “Bridgeport, OR” and once zoomed in to that town, “fly” (or use the ruler) north by northeast at a bering of 16º for just 3.5 miles until you find a dark solid patch of trees. If you back out a ways, you will find scattered patches of trees but only one trapezoidal shaped large patch of trees about 1 mile on the base and 1 mile height. Zoom in to any nearby area and see the results of a terrible forest fire. Zoom into the patch of forest and see the healthy trees. The Google Earth picture is only a year or so old and much of the nearby forest is beginning to return in patches. But the healthy, original patch in its trapezoidal shape is still visible. This patch of forest has no bark beetles.
Update, November 2011: This last summer I went to the area and still did not see any sign of beetle invasion. Around the trapezoid area the forest is recovering from the fire of nearly 20 years ago and on those trees is the occasional limb showing signs of stress. On the latest Google Earth the trapezoid is still clearly visible; however, ten years ago you could make out the lines that the airplane took in spraying, and today those lines are blurred from the spreading healthy trees.