Current forest management not working

In response to the Mail Tribune editorial posted Nov. 12 regarding the forest thinning bill, here are some facts that we would like to share:

First, according to the U.S. Forest Service’s Fuels Treatment Effectiveness Database, 90 percent of fuels reduction projects — whether carried out through logging, thinning or prescribed fire — were effective in reducing wildfire severity.

Salvaging burned timber after a fire allows federal land agencies to recover the economic value of dead and dying trees. Post-fire salvage also protects public safety by removing hazard trees along highways, forest roads and hiking trails that might otherwise fall on people. And it provides funding that federal land agencies sorely need to reforest the landscape and restore recreational amenities.

A 2015 study by the USFS Pacific Northwest Research Station, published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management, found that harvesting fire-killed trees is an effective way to reduce woody fuels for up to four decades following a wildfire.

This summer’s Chetco Bar Fire became a conflagration when it began burning in the 2002 Biscuit Fire and 1987 Silver Fire scars within the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, where forest management activities are off limits. This month researchers found that Northwest forests are getting denser and more vulnerable to fire, and also found that federal lands designated as “late successional reserves” — or those set aside from logging for northern spotted owl habitat — are burning at a higher rate compared to other public and private forests.

We also know that this summer, over 90 percent of the acres burned in Oregon was on land under the Forest Service’s firefighting jurisdiction. Fewer acres are burned on privately owned forests that are more intensively managed, and where fires are attacked more quickly.

Congressman Greg Walden and others understand that such a one-size-fits-all approach to federal forest management is not working. The Resilient Federal Forests Act does not mandate logging and it doesn’t impose any specific forestry prescription across all federal land. Rather it gives federal land manages more policy tools and resources to expedite projects on forests and watersheds that are at immediate risk of catastrophic wildfire, insects and disease. Federal land managers can choose where treatments are needed, and can choose whichever forest management activity is most effective, supported by science and most suitable to the forest.

The Resilient Federal Forests Act also allows the Forest Service to access emergency funding when its wildfire suppression budget is depleted, avoiding disruptions to non-fire programs such as preventative forest treatments. Yet it addresses the key barriers to forest management, which is reducing the significant time and costs it now takes for federal land agencies to develop and implement these projects.

After this summer, with over five weeks of smoke and poor to hazardous air quality, change is needed. The economic impact to our local businesses, particularly tourism, was heavy. Oregon Shakespearean Festival cancelled nine performances with cancellations totaling $600,000. Travel Medford also had cancellations from Cycle Oregon, Softball Association, U.S. Tennis Association and many others.

Our current forest practices are not working!

— Therese MacGregor and Claudette Moore live in Medford.


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