America’s federally-owned forests are overstocked and highly vulnerable to catastrophic fire, insects and disease. These conditions threaten communities, wildlife, water resources and natural landscapes. Tell Congress it’s time to act.
At least 100 million acres of national forests are at some risk of severe wildfire and need active forest management. In 2020, over 4.9 million acres burned on U.S. Forest Service-protected lands. Nearly half of all the acres that burned in 2020 were on national forests. Due in part to the lack of forest management, annual land area burned by severe wildfires in the western United States has grown eight times larger in less than four decades.
Forest management tools- such as logging, thinning, prescribed burning and grazing- can help reduce the intensity of wildfires and give firefighters better and safer opportunities to control them. By better managing our federally owned forests, we can proactively reduce the risks of wildfires, insects and disease. We can also protect communities, wildlife habitat and water resources, while providing public lands access to more Americans.
We Need Healthy Forests
America is suffering from a broken system of federal land management that is threatening forests and nearby communities. Unmanaged federally-owned forests are more likely to be overstocked and prone to catastrophic fire, insects and disease.
On federal lands, Forest mortality exceeds net growth on America’s national forests, based on data publicly available from the U.S. Forest Service. Forest growth was 48 percent of mortality, while timber harvests were just 11 percent of what is dying annually.
Forest mortality continues to trend upward. This means far more trees are dying due to neglect – catastrophic wildfire, insects, and disease – than are being harvested and utilized as wood products.
Forests have a unique ability to sequester and store carbon. But as forest mortality has increased, our forests have become net carbon emitters. In California, for example, research suggests that greenhouse gases are billowing out of the state’s forests faster than they are being sucked back in.
Researchers warn higher temperatures and drier conditions are threatening “irreparable forest loss.” As more area burns at high severity, the likelihood of conversion to different forest types or even to non-forest increases. At the same time, a changing climate is making it increasingly difficult for seedlings to establish and survive, further reducing the potential for forests to return to their pre-fire condition.
Science-based active forest management tools, including the careful use of logging, thinning, prescribed fire and grazing, are proven to reduce the risks to our forests and communities. Sustainable management of our forests also includes reforestation, removal of dead and dying trees after a fire, while maintaining protections for water sources and wildlife habitat.
Active forest management on public lands provides multiple benefits. First, it protects our communities by treating overstocked stands in the wildland urban interface. Second, it results in healthier forests that are more resilient to fire. By providing more nutrients, water, and sunlight, thinning overstocked stands supports the development of land and old forest structure as well as a greater diversity of native tree species and vegetation.
In a carefully managed forest, forests are more resilient and natural low-severity wildfire can safely return to the landscape.
We Need Healthy Communities
Our communities depend on federally-owned forests for many things- timber, access, recreation, wildlife and more.
Yet the federal government is failing to actively manage its forests. As a result, our communities suffer from wildfires, toxic smoke and devastation to homes and properties, as well as reduced employment and public services.
It wasn’t always this way. The National Forest System was established in the early 20th Century to provide a sustainable supply of timber to meet the nation’s need for wood products. For decades, communities prospered thanks to plentiful jobs in the woods, in the mills and in many other businesses that served our forest sector.
Active management also created a robust network of forest roads that allowed Americans to access public lands, and these roads enabled firefighters to contain fires quickly and safely. Because the federal government shares a portion of timber revenue with counties, timber harvests also helped keep offenders behind bars, maintain sheriff patrols, maintain roads and bridges, and fund education – services that are important to all citizens.
Unfortunately, our communities have suffered since active forest management and timber harvests started to decline in the early 1990s. Today, anti-forestry obstruction and litigation is preventing public land managers from implementing forest projects that reduce the risks of wildfires and smoke.
Public lands access has also been reduced as federal agencies close hundreds of miles of forest roads every year. And many counties- especially those with lands dominated by federal ownership- struggle to sustain public services because federal lands cannot be taxed.
Due in part to lack of active management, federal agencies spend far more on wildfire suppression than they do on proactive forest management that costs taxpayers far less. The U.S. Forest Service often lacks the funding and personnel to meet federal regulatory requirements to manage its lands.
That’s why it takes years for the agency to complete the necessary paperwork and address the obstruction and litigation from anti-forestry groups, before they can implement forest projects that benefit our communities and public lands. It’s time for solutions.
Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities: Be a Part of the Solution
We can’t have healthy forests and healthy communities without action from our elected officials. We support sensible solutions that help improve the management of our federally-owned forests, especially those that address the obstruction and litigation that prevent our federal land management agencies from implementing needed forest projects. We also support adequate funding for federal forest management, hazardous fuels reduction, reforestation and forest roads programs.
If you agree, sign up to receive updates on how you support better management of U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands.