In Post-Fire Recovery Efforts, Oregon Urges BLM to Address Hazards on Federal Lands

With post-fire salvage and restoration efforts underway on Southwest Oregon private forests burned in the Douglas Complex fire, the State of Oregon is warning the Bureau of Land Management about hazards posed to forest workers from nearby federal lands.  A recent action by officials with the State of Oregon again highlights growing concerns over the lack of active management of BLM’s O&C lands, the continued uncertainty over restoring federal forest lands in the region, and the need for a congressional solution.

In a letter from Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Division (OR-OSHA) to the BLM State Director, the state suggests that the different approaches to forest management and post-fire recovery efforts on private and federal “O&C” lands is leading to a dangerous situation on the ground:

“Our interest has been piqued by the fact that much of the area burned is in intermingled ownership pattern, with alternate sections of private land located directly adjacent to federal land managed by your agency. Given the different land management objectives of the various landowners involved and the varying pace of salvage and restoration activities planned by these owners, we believe a challenging situation exists relative to maintaining a safe working environment.”

OR-OSHA urged the agency to take action to protect forest workers and the public from the serious hazards posed by standing, dead “danger trees” along the road network and property lines between federal and private lands:

“In many instances this will mean having contractors working directly adjacent to BLM properties that may pose a significant danger to those workers. We encourage you to consider moving expeditiously in eliminating any such hazards and mitigating the potential danger to forest workers.”

Nick Smith of Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities, an organization supporting efforts to restore forests from this year’s Douglas Complex fire, says the BLM is plagued by “analysis paralysis” and litigation that prevents post-fire forest restoration activities from occurring on federal forests while neighboring private forests are restored. The State of Oregon’s request that the BLM promptly take action to merely remove hazard trees that threaten public safety is another example of failed federal forest policies.

“The BLM is hamstrung by federal policies, regulations and endless litigation that prevent the proper management and post-fire restoration of O&C lands,” Smith said. “While adjacent private lands are quickly being restored and regrown, the neglected federal lands threaten public safety and will remain vulnerable to subsequent fires that will not only entire harm forests, but water quality and wildlife habitat as well.”

Smith said Congressional action is needed to resolve the analysis paralysis and provide greater certainty to assure active management of lands controlled by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.

“H.R. 1526, known as the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities, renews the federal government’s commitment to managing federal forest lands while providing a balanced and bipartisan solution from Congressmen Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader and Greg Walden for O&C lands in Southwest Oregon,” Smith said. “We need Sen. Ron Wyden to help pass this legislation or offer another solution that provides needed certainty for forestry projects that protect our forests and the Oregonians who live, work and recreate in these forests.”

In Post-Fire Recovery Efforts, Oregon Urges BLM to Address Hazards on Federal Lands