Expanding Management is Good for Forests’ Health

Read professional forester Troy Reinhart’s recent opinion piece in the Bend Bulletin about forest management.

Troy Reinhart: Expanding Management is Good for Forests’ Health
In a recent “In My View” column, it was argued the best way to assure forest health is to do absolutely nothing. Allowing forests to remain vulnerable to catastrophic wildfire, insects and disease, it was argued, is simply a natural part of “healthy” forest ecosystems. While this is a seemingly extreme position, it actually describes the approach that’s already being taken across millions of acres of Oregon’s federal forest lands. Let’s consider what this approach has accomplished for federal forests and the people who live nearby.

Last year the federal government spent almost $2 billion in fire suppression nationally but only $350 million on forest management. According to the National Forest Health Restoration report, the U.S. Forest Service implements forest restoration treatments on about 129,000 acres annually in Eastern Oregon. That is only 1.4 percent of the agency’s forestland in the region not restricted from active forest management. Even if the federal government doubled current forest restoration treatments, we will never remove all the dead trees as argued recently.

The current lack of thinning or harvesting in dense, overcrowded forest stands can threaten fish and wildlife habitat by making stands vulnerable to unusually hot and destructive fires. The results have proved disastrous for our forests. For example, from 1968 to 1985, fires burned an average of 3,700 acres per year across Oregon. After 1985, through 2011, the average fire size increased to 46,000 acres per year. These fires threaten entire forest ecosystems, as well as the quality of air, water and wildlife habitat.

Active and sustainable management practices can help restore the resiliency of forests to insects and disease while improving the overall condition of forest watersheds. It can also lower the risk of unnaturally severe wildfires due to overcrowded forest stands. With today’s science and technology, it’s possible to harvest timber in a sustainable manner that doesn’t harm the appearance or abundance of the forests. Forest management also reduces costs to taxpayers. For every $1 the USFS spends on forest restoration, the agency avoids a potential loss of $1.45 from having to suppress massive fires. The recent column unfairly attacking forest management did not address how current policies affect people living in rural communities, but it’s critical to any discussion on forest management. According to the National Forest Health Restoration report, reduced forest management has decreased timber supplies and devastated working families. Between 2006 and 2011, the report indicates that dependence on government social services has tripled. East of the Cascades, 1 in 5 people who reside near national forests live in poverty.

Expanding forest management practices would result in healthier communities. The report indicates that every $1 million spent on forest restoration would generate $5.7 million in economic returns, and doubling current restoration efforts would create 2,300 jobs in dry-side communities. More jobs mean more tax revenue to improve public education and keep rural citizens safe.

Under an extreme preservationist policy prescription, not only do we lose jobs, we lose entire forests and all the environmental and economic benefits they provide. That’s why we need Congress to pass a permanent and comprehensive solution that benefits our timber-dependent communities and our natural resources. Active forest management is a vital part of any solution because it will help create economic opportunities for rural working families, while protecting our forests for future generations.

(Note- This article appeared in the Bend Bulletin on April 26, 2013

Expanding Management is Good for Forests’ Health