Recent opinions printed in The News-Review have attempted to discredit active forest management as part of a political campaign to prohibit fuel reduction projects on 500,000 acres of national forests. Yet there is a broad political consensus, not to mention a wide body of science, supporting the use of thinning and prescribed burning to mitigate the many risks to our forests.
For the past 30 years, we have tried the preservationist, or “hands off” approach to public lands management. Among the 191 million acres of National Forest System land, only 35 percent of the land base is unreserved and available for active management. About half of 1% of those acres are treated in any one year.
Using logic that has been applied to support the so-called “Crater Lake Wilderness” proposal, one would think we would have less wildfire ignitions, less severe wildfires, less carbon release, less sediment in rivers and so on. But that is not the case, especially when one considers the wildfires that have occurred in and around Crater Lake National park in recent years.
In 2019, the Governor’s Council on Wildfire Response assembled a diverse group of community leaders, land managers, wildfire experts, academics and others to examine the causes and solutions to catastrophic wildfires. To restore and maintain resilient landscapes, the council found that the state must actively manage its forests and rangelands, and prioritize treatments on Oregon’s highest-risk natural systems.
Anti-logging activists commonly trot out a single study suggesting wildfires are more severe on private forest lands. Yet the Governor’s Council found that for each of the past three decades, 92% to 93% of all burned acres occurred primarily on federal lands. The council’s report recognizes that most of the lands at the highest risk of catastrophic wildfire are located on federal lands, which have become unnaturally overstocked due to a century of fire suppression and decades of forest non-management.
Of course, there are several factors that contribute to catastrophic wildfire, including wind, weather conditions, topography and climate. Activists, however, purposely discount the influence of fuel loading, which is the one factor we can actually control through science-based forestry. Ecologists not bound by political agendas have found that active management is the smartest approach to forest restoration. Along with fire managers they state that we must increase the pace and scale of fuels reduction projects if we hope to reduce the increasing threat of catastrophic wildfire.
In the pages of this newspaper we have seen many straw man arguments describing the effects of logging and reforestation on forest ecosystems, as if federal land management agencies apply a one-size-fits-all approach to forest projects. Federal land managers utilize the best available science to prescribe forest management activities to a given landscape, which often includes promoting tree diversity, forest resiliency and providing a variety of habitats to support a wide range of wildlife species. In contrast, the Crater Lake Wilderness proposal draws arbitrary lines on a map and eliminates all forest restoration and active management.
In this time of climate uncertainty, it is not surprising to see anti-management activists use agenda-driven research to blame logging for a warming planet. This research often ignores or discounts the massive carbon emissions from catastrophic wildfire, especially the carbon that is emitted from damaged soils and decaying trees after a fire.
Such agenda-driven research ignores the carbon benefits of reducing wildfire risks, post-fire reforestation and the carbon-sequestering capabilities of young, growing trees and especially the benefits of locking the carbon in dead trees by turning them into manufactured wood products. Claims recently made by one activist that keeping carbon in the forest is analogous to keeping fossil fuels in the ground ignore the fact that forests are dynamic ecosystems that can either emit or sequester carbon, depending on conditions on the ground.
Science-based forest management can help maximize the carbon sequestration potential of these landscapes by helping them adapt to changing climate conditions. Prohibiting management on federal lands only serves to shift logging to other countries that don’t share our commitment to sustainability. It undermines the manufacture of renewable and climate-friendly building materials sourced locally, while further increasing our dependence on the use of fossil fuels.
Rather than working to prioritize and accelerate needed treatments on federal lands that are unreserved and available for management, Crater Lake Wilderness advocates are asking us to double down on the failed and outdated hands-off approach by adding additional forestry restrictions on 500,000 acres. From my view, three decades of hands-off management has failed our forests, our wildlife, our communities and our climate.