Federal Forest Management Designed By a Pyromaniac

The Portland Oregonian has had a change of heart. Instead of lambasting private contract firefighters (on the eve of the memorial service) and blaming them for the cost of USFS Let It Burn policies, the Oregonian Editorial Board has zeroed in on the real culprit: irresponsible forest un-management by that shoddy federal agency.

This (signed) editorial showed up Friday and again today:

Fighting fire in Oregon forests

by The Oregonian Editorial Board, August 15, 2008 [here]

The Forest Service invests heavily… in flammable material!

America’s forests are a mess. Overgrown. Under-managed. And tinder-dry.

Here we are, barely half way through the fire season, and — once again — the U. S. Forest Service has run out of money for fighting fires.

That means the Forest Service is being forced — once again — to plunder the other line items of its budget. Sure, that means more shoddy trails, more shuttered campgrounds. But that’s just the bad news.

The far worse news is this means Uncle Sam will again be spending less on the critical work of properly maintaining the forest. On thinning it. On trimming it. On sweeping clean its floor.

Just last week, the Forest Service diverted another $30 million from its commitment to clear duff, that’s the organic debris that carpets so much of the forest floor.

The Forest Service, in other words, just made a massive investment in next year’s supply of flammable material, all but guaranteeing far worse fires in the offing.

This is federal forest management designed by a pyromaniac. Its consequence will be more firefighters killed, more billions of dollars wasted, more millions of acres of national treasure going up in smoke. (emphasis added)

The modern forest is a complex socio-economic, biological, geochemical organism. Managed for multiple uses, it must serve as a:

Source of timber.
Recreational resource.
Haven for flora and fauna.
Warehouse of sequestered carbon.

Each of those roles, each of enormous consequence, is imperiled when forest managers spent most of their time, and much of their budget, fighting fires. Or appearing in court to argue about where, when and just how ferociously to fight fires.

For decades, under the influence of Smokey Bear, America clung to the belief fire was the enemy. It isn’t. There’s a growing recognition of its key role in a balanced ecosystem. Our challenge now is to make our forests healthy enough so that at the right times, in the right places, and in the right way — lightly — we can let them burn.

As a first step in that direction, Congress must immediately move to provide separate dedicated funding for fighting fires. Which means we’d have separate dedicated funds for managing our forests.

Only then can we start fighting fires much more sensibly. And being much more sensible about which we should let burn. — Bob Caldwell

Separate funding is an okay idea. It is really just juggling budgets and does not address the core problem.

Let It Burn is a policy the Media needs to disavow. Give it a rest, please.

But the idea that fires should be at the right times, in the right places, and done the right way is on the mark. Forest also need to be prepared to receive those properly timed, located, and administered fires.

Need a useful phrase to describe all that? Try “restoration forestry.” That’s the phrase the pros use.

The whole and complete idea of restoration forestry also includes:

1. Heritage landscape renovation
2. Managing for fire resiliency and old-growth development pathways
3. Watershed protection
4. Protecting and enhancing wildlife habitat
5. Active stewardship with positive economic returns
6. Compliance with environmental laws

Restoration forestry is the ticket out of the mess we are in. Restoration forestry does NOT include Let It Burn megafires that ravage regions. Restoration forestry is about responsible stewardship, not incineration.

Kudos to the Oregonian for climbing part way out of the Media Mire of Ignorance. Over the next week or two (watch for it, excellent and hopeful restoration forestry news is in the SOSF queue) we will reach down and try to lift and drag the Media a little bit farther up the learning curve.

17 Aug 2008, 5:58pm
by bear bait

Putting pressure on the media to use their common sense evidently has had an effect. Kudos, Mike. Keep up the pressure.



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