15 Jan 2008, 5:47pm
Federal forest policy
by admin

Time for a better forest policy

The following editorial (unsigned) appeared this morning in the Portland Oregonian [here].

Mark Rey looked really happy to be in Portland on Friday.

We thought it might be because Rey, whose job as undersecretary of agriculture includes oversight of the U.S. Forest Service, liked the view across the verdant West Hills. But maybe he was just thrilled not to be in Montana . . . where a federal judge was threatening to slap him in jail.

The story begins in 2002 when air tankers dropped thousands of pounds of flame retardant on a fire raging around Fall Creek in central Oregon. One ingredient in that chemical soup was ammonium phosphate; it killed an estimated 20,000 fish in the creek. That rate of piscine mortality prompted a Eugene-based group called Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics to file a lawsuit. Two years later, Judge Donald Molloy ruled in Missoula that the Forest Service had violated the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act when it failed to go through a public process to analyze potential harm from retardant. He promptly ordered a formal environmental analysis. Last week the judge said the Forest Service, and Rey, have been duplicitous ever since. Then he took to talking about holding Rey in contempt of court and rattling those keys to the cell.

It was Rey, the judge understood, who years earlier had slapped an embargo on an agency environmental analysis of retardant, one more reminder of the sad track record of this administration in opting to ignore science for political ends.

We have long held reservations about federal policy regarding wildfire in the West. We start with mounting concern over the rate at which firefighting costs are raging through Forest Service resources. In 2006, the agency spent $1.6 billion — more than 40 percent of its entire budget — putting out fires. That left it with a brutally abbreviated balance to spend on all the other things we think it should be doing: planning and conducting timber sales, managing recreation areas and wildlife habitat, and massively ramping up the tree-thinning and brush maintenance that would make our public forests far less susceptible to fire in the first place.

All too soon, another fire season will be upon us. Once again the vast infrastructure of the firefighting community will be brought to bear. Clearly we face growing challenges in protecting housing, especially in that increasingly controversial interface between urban and wild lands. And clearly decades of policy that permitted fuel loads to accumulate in the woods means letting fires run their natural course is rarely a viable option.

That’s why the administration must move now to chart a new course, especially here in the West, for managing fire on public lands. And why the environmental community must partner in, not set up roadblocks to, this process. Appealing though it may seem to some, jailing high-ranking government officials is not the answer.

16 Jan 2008, 4:00pm
by Bob Z.


I was very pleased to see that the Oregonian has “long held reservations about federal policy regarding wildfire in the West,” but remain a little curious as to why it has taken so long for them to express themselves in print on this issue.

The coincidental visit of Mark Rey to Portland and the subsequent rapid exit of the Regional Forester may bode well for Oregonian readers and rural Oregon residents alike, because a significant change in policy may actually be in the works.

I was also pleased to note the total absence of Global Warming hysteria in the editorial, with not even a mention of the topic in relation to western US wildfires during the past six years.

Maybe they have been reading your blog, Mike — it certainly seems as if some common sense may have finally infiltrated the newspaper’s hierarchy in the past few days or weeks. Or maybe they were paying attention to the San Diego wildfires, and noted they were exacerbated by unmanaged fuels and not by climate change. In either regard, it is refreshing to see good insights and good recommendations regarding forest management coming from the Oregonian again, after an absence of so many years.

Please keep up the good work. You have been the only member of the media to consistently bring these issues to public attention during the past several fire seasons, and your calls for a much-needed change in federal policy are now creeping into public consciousness.

16 Jan 2008, 6:33pm
by Mike


I have never been called a “member of the media” before. I’m not sure that I like it. But I can take it, since I dish it out.

16 Jan 2008, 9:48pm
by bear bait

Bob Z does not take into account that even a blind sow (or the Oregonian) will by accident find an acorn. I find it amusing that Rey comes to town and Goodman announces her retirement. I wonder what she did to antagonize Weyerhaeuser. Neither she nor Rey has done squat for me or my state. Good riddance to both (Rey is a short termer as per being a Bush appointee). I really don’t believe the USFS is capable of making informed decisions on many management issues if only because they have for the last 20 years been involved in a purge of anyone who knew how to do anything on the ground. If pounding notices on sign posts is management, then they are the best. If there is more to it than that, they have no expertise left at all. I guess that all that is left to do is give ourselves a big hug, rub our crystals, and wait to be fried by the sun.

16 Jan 2008, 10:04pm
by Mike

Long wait for that here in the Gray Sky Valley.

But once in awhile, when you least expect it, the sun does shine through, for a few minutes.

17 Jan 2008, 9:15pm
by bear bait

You have to wonder how the locals endured this weather 400 years ago. I guess they would pray for another wind storm to bring down more dead wood to burn. I wonder, sometimes, if there were not migrating Indians who would go south in winter and come north in summer. I suppose without golf courses, who would make that journey? All I know is that this grey deal is bad in and of itself, but having it being a degree or two on either side of freezing all day long as well as dark gets to me a little. Where do you sign up for some global warming?

18 Jan 2008, 12:49pm
by Bob Z.

Wintertime is for telling stories. Call the kids out of the rain and back into the plank house. Have one of them put another log onto the fire, have another get you an elk-skin robe off the shelf for warmth and dramatic effect, and start talking. Singing, dancing, eating, smoking, and drinking will follow.

Greens are sprouting up everywhere and buds are swelling and getting ready to burst. We should be seeing trilliums in bloom in just a few weeks time, and other flowers, ferns, grasses, and trees will follow their lead in profusion. Enjoy the downtime while it lasts; it’s almost over.

What was the topic again?



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