We have a subculture in Douglas County, whose members consider themselves to be “protectors of the forest.” As it turns out, many of these folks are more interested in local politics than local forests. That is, other than forests in county parks. Perhaps their leaders have convinced them that “all is well” in the Umpqua National Forest, and that they’ve established a very cozy working relationship with a Forest Service that is heavily dependent on the grant money that they provide. You might call it “an inside connection.” Can you imagine the outcry that would ensue, if the Executive Director of Douglas Timber Operators enjoyed the same sort of relationship with a ranger district as they do? It’s absolutely mind blowing.
The Tiller Ranger District is so under-funded that it relies on grants to pay for the disposal of campground garbage. This group boasts of having provided over $30 million in grant money throughout the past dozen years, most of which was paid to helicopter companies that have placed hundreds of “fish logs” in our creeks, with little improvement to our salmon runs. This amount of money is quite impressive, but is this arrangement ethical? Oh well, like they say, “money talks and,” you know the rest.
Either way, most of the members of this subculture are free to focus their attention on the political issues that plague our county’s elected officials. If you’ve been reading articles in this Op-Ed section lately, you know what I’m talking about. The problems facing our county are directly related to the loss of revenues from timber sales on federal forests, and yet these folks just can’t see any connection between the actions taken by their leaders, and our budgetary woes. Instead, they blame the likely loss of our library, and the reduction of other county services, on the “incompetence” of our commissioners.
It appears that certain individuals in this group might have political aspirations. What an interesting strategy. While their leaders get in bed with the Forest Service, which is forced to rely on grant money that the group provides, the rest attack the county commissioners, who are reeling from the effects of trickling timber harvests that earlier leaders have locked into place with excessive regulations and the ever-present threat of timber-sale litigation. You have to respect the ingeniousness of their plan, although it is rather despicable when you consider the potential impacts to a forest that has been rendered extremely vulnerable.
According to numerous studies conducted by the USFS (google if you like…I did), this forest is at extreme risk for uncontrollable wildfire events, and the risk is growing every year. By their own concession, future fires will continue to grow larger, and burn hotter than anything we have seen in the past, and the percentage of high-severity areas within these fires, will increase significantly. The soil will be badly damaged, and its nitrogen will be destroyed. Water quality will suffer dramatically. Erosion will be excessive, and the tons of sediment in our streams will plug up the gills of salmon that do return. The recovery of the affected areas will be measured in hundreds of years, and re-burns will be very likely. These predictions are accompanied by the warning that the unknown extent of climate change could result in worse conditions than the current models anticipate.
The only thing that needs to happen, for this dismal assessment to become a tear-filled reality, is the continuation of the current level of management, which is defined by a commercial-thinning extraction rate of 33 million board/feet/year for the whole Umpqua National Forest. This is less than the estimated growth rate, and doesn’t begin to address the incredible accumulations of fuel that drive the above-mentioned predictions. On top of all this, Umpqua Watersheds just introduced its master plan to remove 500,000 more acres from any possibility of future management. If you are one of the folks with political aspirations, you may want to separate yourself from this subculture before it’s too late.
If you really want to help this forest, why don’t you join us in promoting a forest-wide system of road-side fuel breaks, and assist us in pressuring the Forest Service to pay heed to their own foreboding predictions. We need to thin the Umpqua National Forest at a rate of 130 million board/feet/year, and the current leaders of your subculture are definitely not going to help with that. I know that this might spawn an identity crisis in some of you, and I’m sorry. We’ve all been through it, and most of us have learned that you should never be afraid to “change horses mid-stream,” if you can ride a better horse up the far bank. Who knows, in time, you may get your shot at becoming a commissioner after all.