A buzzing vibrates throughout the Wehinahpay canyon and travels the length of the camp, as though a hoard of downy woodpeckers is attempting to take down the forest. "HOT SAW!!!" echoes from the base of a white fir as a metal creature roars to life and fells the once mighty tree.
This is conservation week at Wehinahpay Mountain Camp! A partnership between The Kwahadi Lodge Order of the Arrow and the Philmont Conservation Department. Four sawyers, including one foreman and one director, visited from Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico, to assist us in our own conservation of our beloved forest. They conducted a prescribed cut to our forest in order to protect it, and the rest of our camp, from fire, and began the process of restoring the forest to its natural, healthy state. The goal of this prescribed cut was to reduce what is called "ladder fuel". Ladder fuel is anything small to medium sized along the forest floor and any smaller or less healthy trees. Historically, small fires happen naturally and reduce the ladder fuel load. However, due to human intervention to stop forest fires all together, these fuels build up more than the forest can handle. This allows forest fires to become so hot and tall that they reach into the canopy and start a new level of fire that travels faster, quicker, and is more difficult to quench. The Philmont Conservation Team cut down trees over six inches in diameter, bucked those into six-foot logs, and created slash piles out of the removed material to be burned safely in the snowy, winter months. Small, low intensity fires are important for the growth of a forest to reduce ladder fuel load, as well as add much needed nutrients to the soil. Trees like Ponderosa pines have adapted to protect themselves from these natural fires with a thick bark that can withstand the lower heat, but not the larger, high canopy fires. Perched at 8,500 ft in elevation, the forests of Wehinahpay have a much shorter growing season due to lower temperatures. Once a fire destroys our forest, it will take much longer to grow back and soil erosion will persist throughout that time. Foreman, Chance Sloan, explained the importance of a prescribed cut in a forest that has not had healthy fire in decades. "No tree is a bad tree," said Sloan. People have been conditioned through Smokey the Bear campaigns to think all forest fires are dangerous and the trees that cause them are bad; this simply is not the case. Historically, it is said that a horse could be ridden at full gallop through the forests of New Mexico. Today, scouts must take off their packs in order to shimmy through overgrown patches of underbrush and small trees. Because of the lack of fire, invasive species with different adaptations than the ones native to the Lincoln National Forest habitat now have the opportunity to grow and thrive. This does not mean that they are bad trees, explains Sloan, it just means they are not living in the right home.
The Philmont Conservation Team kickstarted our Conservation Program here at Wehinahpay. This summer, join a cons team and learn how to prolong our forests through prescribed cutting and help protect our camp so we can all hike another day!
To view more events just like this one, check out our OA calendar below