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Sustainable Development e-News

Special Feature

In His Own Words:
A Conversation with Clinton D. Kyhl, District Ranger
Laramie Ranger District, Southeastern Wyoming

The Medicine Bow National Forest Responds to Four Threats

LARAMIE, Wyo.--What role do scientific data play in how the Forest Service responds to threats on the Nation's natural resources?

Government land agencies, whose programs are appropriately guided by scientific findings, conduct and support research for good reason. For one thing, research protocols per se alert such agencies to the strengths and limitations of their own practices, making them increasingly cognizant of any pressing ecosystem issues that they need to address as they demonstrate their accountability to their stakeholders and their responsiveness to public demands. For another, research results are increasingly brought to bear on an institution's response to issues--or, in the case of the Forest Service, on four current threats to sustainability: fire and fuels, invasive species, loss of open space, and unmanaged recreation. Research contributions are particularly palpable in forest management in the Laramie Ranger District of the Medicine Bow National Forest in southeastern Wyoming.

Enter Rocky Mountain Research Station's plant physiologist Robert C. Musselman. His experiments on the wilderness-like Snowy Range on the Medicine Bow National Forest provide significant data on alpine and subalpine ecosystems.

Alpine ecosystems in the Rocky Mountains are highly sensitive to air pollution and climate change. Therefore, Musselman, along with John Korfmacher, a physical scientist, William Massman, a meteorologist, and John Frank, an electronics engineer, conducts experiments around two similar lakes that are about 150 feet apart--West Glacier and East Glacier. The Glacier Lakes, at 10,800-foot elevation, are sensitive to deposition of atmospheric chemicals from the burning of fossil fuels. The researchers monitor air and water quality, gauge the accumulation of sulfates and nitrites, collect baseline and experimental data on the ecosystem, and monitor carbon sequestration and the deposition of atmospheric gases and chemicals, as well as monitor the accumulation of nitrates and sulfates in the ecosystem.

In essence, research enables Forest Service land managers to better understand natural and human-caused environmental stresses on ecosystem structure and function: vegetation disturbances and possible changes in soils, weather and climate; in air and water quality; and in forest productivity.

The Laramie Ranger District, for one, is placed in a better position to accomplish projects in plant communities, in landscape habitats, in watersheds, and in aquatic systems, using, among other things, data provided by the meteorological and air-quality monitoring at the Glacier Lakes Ecosystems Experiments Site, in the Snowy Range of southeastern Wyoming. It is now better equipped to respond to threats on the Medicine Bow National Forest.

Little wonder, then, that District Ranger Clint Kyhl, as he notes in the following conversation, delights in the value of significant research findings that emanate from the Forest Service Research Stations. Kyhl uses them as part of an array of tools to respond to threats on the sustainable management of the Medicine Bow National Forest.

Clint Kyhl has served the USDA Forest Service for 20 years. Since 2002, he has been the District Ranger for the Laramie Ranger District, on the Medicine Bow National Forest in southeastern Wyoming. He had been a District Ranger in Hot Springs, on the Buffalo Gap National Grassland in South Dakota. He has held several resource management positions on several national forests, including the Routt, the White River, and the Pike & San Isabel National Forests. His Forest Service career started as a Timber Forester in Kremmling, Colorado, shortly after he graduated with a bachelor's degree in Forest Resource Management from Iowa State University in 1983.

Clint is married to Sharon Kyhl, an Interpretive Planner who also works for the Forest Service. They have two sons, Keith, 15, and Craig, 14.

Clint Kyhl
District Ranger Clinton D. Kyhl in his Laramie office

Q: Clint, how specifically does the Laramie Ranger District benefit from research, for example, that undertaken at the Glacier Lakes Ecosystem Experiments Site (GLEES)?

A: Research is a major influence on how we manage the ground. We use research and science to make better decisions. The credibility of our agency is based on strong science.

The results of the research that Bob [Musselman] and the Rocky Mountain Research Station conduct at GLEES, for example, will go up the management chain, and management will identify changes that we should do to make better land management decisions.

How do the Montréal Process Criteria and Indicators (C&I) help you implement your Forest Plan on the Medicine Bow?

Sustainability has always been a critical part of our mission in "Caring for the land." For example, in the next two weeks, we will begin planting 120,000 tree seedlings in an area ravaged by a large catastrophic wildfire. Reforestation is a critical component of forest sustainability. I think the Forest Service has met many of the C&I identified in the Montréal Process. The upcoming pilot project on certification will help us look at those in more detail. Note that the Medicine Bow National Forest is one of six national forests on which an independent third-party audit of NFS lands will be conducted within a broad, overarching framework of the upcoming NFS Certification Test Project.

Are there forest issues to which C&I are more commonly applied than to others?

There are two big issues on which our district is working: Forest Health and Fuels Management, which of course is one of the Chief's Four Threats. In this district, there has been a drastic increase in bark beetle activity. Over the past six years, we've had severe drought, which has weakened trees. In addition, we've had mild winters, which have led to an increase in the bark beetle populations. Trees have, therefore, been unusually vulnerable to both beetle infestation and catastrophic wildfires.

We are actively working to mitigate both the forest-health and fuel-reduction issues. The Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA) of 2003 has really helped us out in addressing these issues. We are reducing fuels through, partnerships with both the County and the State. For example, in 2004 the Laramie Ranger District, Wyoming State Forestry and Albany County came together and hired a consultant who evaluated 45 at-risk communities and developed mitigation plans for each of those areas. With this report, we are beginning to work on the highest priority areas and are using the tools and opportunities provided by HFRA. We are using a variety of management tools, including timber sales, stewardship contracts, and service contracts to deal with these issues. We want healthy stands that are more resistant to both bugs and fires.

As we deal with these two big issues, forest health and fuel reduction, sustainability is paramount in my mind. We need to look at the long-term health of these timber stands versus the short-term fix. I think it is important for land managers to consider the C&I when they are actively managing forests.

What challenges do we, as an agency, confront as we move ever so fervently toward sustaining healthy forests and grasslands?

The biggest challenge is getting full buy-in from the public. Not everyone agrees that cutting trees or "managing" the landscape is a good thing. That's where good science and research tie back in. We need folks like Bob [Musselman] and the research stations to provide that sound science. As we go to the public with projects, or get challenged on how we manage the land, having strong science behind your decision is critical. We also need to work with our local universities. For example, here in Laramie, the University of Wyoming has been very helpful in researching a variety of forest issues.

Partnerships will also continue to play a vital role in our success. Working with the local counties and state agencies, strengthens our credibility. Working with the adjoining land owners, subdivisions, or local communities shows that we really care about the forest and their needs. With declining budgets, we need to look at ways to leverage our dollars. Most of these issues cross administrative boundaries, so we need to work as a team and look at the landscape scale.

We'll always have challenges. However, by focusing the debate on the long-term health and sustainability of the forests, we'll succeed. No one will argue with you on that point.

In light of those challenges, what, then, should our agency do to help your land managers become more accomplished, particularly in their response to threats on the Medicine Bow?

The agency is doing a great job in helping us respond to forest-health and fuels issues. As I mentioned earlier, HFRA has been a great tool for us, as well as any additional ways to streamline NEPA. For example, more Categorical Exclusions, where they are appropriate. I also think the new Planning Rule will help. In short, increased efficiencies in streamlining the NEPA process will get more funds to the ground.

As a Ranger, I'm also looking for more money. However, with flat line budgets, streamlining the NEPA processes and developing strong partnerships will be the only way to get the job done. Increased efficiency and "leveraging" will be important strategies as I move foreword in addressing the Chief's Four Threats and in maintaining sustainability in the Laramie Ranger District of Medicine Bow National Forest. Any help the agency provides to continue these efforts will be helpful.

Return to SDe-News Summer 2005

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    Last Modified: Friday, May 27, 2005