I am writing this in support of Congressman Doc Hastings House Bill, H.R. l526, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act and several other bills that enhance and support proper forest management on federal lands.
For a number of years now, I have been involved with a grass-roots organization called Communities for Healthy Forests. The mission of this organization has been “To realize the prompt restoration and recovery of the forest in the aftermath of fire and other catastrophic events.”
This community environmental organization was formed in Roseburg, following a visit to two separate parcels of federal forest lands that, following severe fires, were never repaired or trees replanted. Even today, decades later, there are no trees — only brush, poison oak and dead, decaying wood.
Active forest management is crucial. Whether manmade or caused by Mother Nature, catastrophic wildfires are exacerbated by the overabundance of fuel. Reducing fuels through responsible land management, including decreasing the spread of insect and disease infestations like the bark beetle, is essential to reducing the risk of major wildfires.
1995 marked a turning point in the federal government’s long-standing fire suppression policy. Under pressure from extreme environmental groups who argued that we were over-suppressing wildfires, federal agencies began to allow some small fires to run their course.
The idea behind the over-suppression theory was that wildfires play an important role in the ecosystem. All of the underbrush, fallen branches and densely packed trees need to be periodically cleared out in order for new trees to spring up. Occasional, low-intensity wildfires fulfill this role. Yet the rate of wildfire destruction following this change of policy jumped from 3 million to 6.5 million acres annually on average. Last year, it was all the way up to 9 million acres. The let-it-burn strategy appears to have backfired.
The problem with this approach is that we can’t completely abandon fire suppression. People live in close proximity to the environment, so even low-intensity fires often need to be suppressed to keep them from spreading into someone’s backyard. Rather than letting fires burn, humans need to do the thinning work of natural wildfires by hand. In proper forestry management, this process is known as mechanical thinning, or hazardous fuels reduction.
Commercial timber harvest has the added benefits of generating royalty payments, creating funds, jobs, and boosting economic growth. If properly regulated, it is a sustainable practice.
While it used to be an integral part of forest management strategies, commercial timber harvesting has been hampered by extreme environmental interests.
Pressure from extremist groups to stop suppressing wildfires thus coincided with pressure to stop commercial timber harvesting. This has shifted the burden of mechanical thinning to the federal agencies themselves. It is unfeasible and unaffordable for the federal government to manage the 6 million acres of land that it owns. Without commercial timber harvesting and royalty payments, wildfires will continue to get worse.
Concern has been growing for years in the West about wildfires. In addition to killing people, they have destroyed thousands of structures and natural resources.
Yet Congress has struggled year after year to find funds to make forests less likely to burn. Part of the “healthy forest” initiatives includes proper forest management directives, thereby creating jobs, restoring forest health and reducing catastrophic fires.
Let’s manage our national treasures, our federal forests and natural resources properly. Please consider working with Communities for Healthy Forests in support of Legislation and the passage of HR 1526.
Ron Doan is the administrative operations officer for the Umpqua Indian Development Corp. Doan is a past president of the Roseburg Area Chamber of Commerce and has served on boards and committees including Douglas Timber Operators, Douglas County Industrial Development Board and CCD Business Development Corp. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.