After 20 years of Washington politicians merely kicking the can down the road we believe it’s time to address the underlying crisis facing the health of our rural communities and forests.
As Washington D.C. ends direct payments to timber-dependent counties, our county governments are struggling to provide basic services. Many counties have been forced to make deep cuts and some are even considering bankruptcy.
Meanwhile, our unmanaged federal forests are highly vulnerable to wildfire, insects and disease. Without Congressional action, we could lose much of our forests for future generations.
The health of our rural communities will only be restored when we restore active, sustainable management to our federal forests.
Current federal land management policies are harming the health of our federal forests and the health of rural economies that are dependent on those forests. Our forests are overstocked and highly vulnerable to catastrophic fire, insects and disease, which directly threatens our fish, wildlife and watersheds.
Absent Congressional action to restore balanced management to our federal forests, we will continue to experience disasters such as those we’ve already seen in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.
With today’s technology, it’s possible to harvest timber in a sustainable manner that protects the many benefits we’ve come to expect from our forests. Sustainable management of our forests includes replanting after harvests, selective harvesting, protection of water sources and wildlife habitat, and wildfire prevention.
Lack of thinning or harvesting in dense, overcrowded forest stands can threaten fire and wildlife habitat by making stands vulnerable to unusually hot and destructive fires. 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. Colorado, California and Arizona forests have experienced record impacts from forest fires.
The federal government spent almost $2 billion last year fighting fires nationwide, but only $350 million on forest management. Through a balanced solution, we can sustainably manage forests and prevent catastrophic fires by reducing fuel loads and increasing the vigor of our forests.
Unemployment in rural, forested communities is in the double digits. Our communities lag in just about every indicator of economic and social health. These economic and social ills are directly attributable to the failure of our leaders in Washington to deliver on years of broken promises to allow rural citizens to get back to work on federal forest lands.
Many of our rural counties are facing insolvency with the combination of the loss of Federal timber payments, reduced economic activity and the lingering recession. Absent a long-term solution that includes active forest management, vital county services will be severely restricted or altogether disappear.
By passing a permanent and long-term solution, Congress can help rural communities keep offenders behind bars, maintain sheriff patrols, maintain roads and bridges, and fund education – services that are important to all citizens.
Reliable data and the experience with state management of public forest land suggests that relatively modest timber harvest levels could generate county payments significantly higher than current federal subsidies while also providing tens of thousands of new jobs in rural communities.
Restoring forest management to federal lands will help solve a serious funding problem for many rural counties without raising anyone’s taxes. We can also reduce constant court battles and provide more community stability.
Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities supports a comprehensive and permanent solution that moves counties away from an uncertain future of dwindling federal payments to a long-term solution that meets the federal government’s obligation to federally-forested communities.
Allowing active and sustainable forest management on federal lands will create jobs in rural communities. It will help create economic opportunities for our struggling rural counties while protecting federal forests for the future. It will give rural residents in hand up instead of a handout.
We know solution are available that will allow a healthy harvest while also protecting all that we value about out forests. A solution would help prevent catastrophic fires and disease, while protecting streams, water, fish and wildlife for the future.
Join our coalition, and urge Congress to pass a solution for our forests and rural communities today.