The Costs of Inaction

The just released (Winter 2009) issue of California Forests contains a powerful message: passive forest management leads to catastrophic wildfires that harm forests, watersheds, wildlife, public health, and other values.

California Forests is the official publication of the California Forestry Association. The entire issue can be downloaded from their website [here]. Some excerpts:

Wildfire Blazes Across Political Boundaries

by David A. Bischel, President, California Forestry Association

Wildfires in 2008 left nearly 1.5 million acres of California’s wildland charred … costing taxpayers more than $1 billion to fight. …

Wildfires don’t care about politics, nor do the watercourses that fill with mud and debris during post fire rains, or the wildfire displaced by the flames. …

Californians deserve to be made fully aware of the potential effects of action, or inaction, in our forests. They also deserve to have their elected officials engaged on the issue and participating in open debates.

That, unfortunately, does not always happen. …

Active Forest Conservation Beats Passive Preservation

by Jay O’Laughlin, Ph.D., professor of forest resources and director of the College of Natural Resources Policy Analysis Group at the University of Idaho.

A century of fire exclusion and a 90 percent decrease in national forest timber harvests have allowed unprecedented fuel loads to accumulate on public forest lands and increased the incidence of large-scale, high-intensity wildfires. These big fires put ecological, economic, and social values at serious risk.

Although active management can improve forest conditions, public policies thwart managers from restoring forests and effecting long-term fuel reduction designed to protect wood, water, wildlife, and other values. Rather than allowing managers to practice conservation, our policies tend to keep managers out of the woods. …

Conservation also forces us to make some tough decisions about our forests, starting with, what do we want our forests to look like? Given the fuel accumulations on much of our public lands, the answer is something other than what exists today.

Foresters call this the “desired future condition,” and it drives everything else. If we know what we want our forests to look like, managers can work towards that end by applying the science and technology that underpin the forestry profession.

Conservation targets a specific goal, whereas preservation assumes that whatever results from “natural” forces is preferable to human action-even with the unnatural fuel loads that exist today. …

Coming Together to Sustain Forests

by Linda Blum, Quincy Library Group, Audubon Society, and Feather River Land Trust

Fifteen years ago, I was the leader of the California Ancient Forest Alliance working with grassroots groups to end clearcutting on national forests in the Sierra Nevada. Our goal was to protect forests and water quality, provide appropriate recreation opportunities, and safeguard habitat for spotted owls and other wildlife.

Something funny happened on our way to stopping the Forest Service’s timber program-we discovered the forests really do need to be managed. …

Failing to manage fuels has devastated millions of acres of California forestland. Our fire suppression and forest management policies have created enormous fuel loads that cause today’s fires to burn hotter and with more severe ecological effects than in the past. In trying to preserve forests, we have come perilously close to loving them to death.

To enable the Forest Service to implement our plan, QLG worked in a bi-partisan manner to pass the Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery Act (HFQLG Act) in 1998. …

The pilot began in 1999 but has been beset by legal challenges ever since. A handful of activists in partnership with Santa Monica-based Environment Now have filed administrative appeals on nearly every HFQLG project. They have gone to court to stop many. Though their objections are couched as wildlife concerns, it seems their real goal is to kill off the timber industry. …

A Hospital Faces an Emergency: Wildfire and Poor Air Quality Force an Evacuation

by Wayne Ferch, president and CEO of Feather River Hospital

In July 2008, the lightning-caused Camp Fire blazed over 53,000 acres of Butte County, and eventually forced the evacuation and closure of the Feather River Hospital in Paradise, CA.

According to my research, it was only the second time a hospital in California had to be evacuated in 18 years. It marked the first time in out 60 years of operation that our hospital was evacuated. …

The fire and smoke kept the hospital closed for ten days, at considerable hardship and cost to our employees and to the community. …

Changing the Fire Dynamic in California’s Forests: Restoring Forests Requires Action in Policy Circles and On the Ground

by Gary Nakamura, Forester with UC Cooperative Extension and member of the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection

Many of California’s public forestlands stand in stark contrast to the landscapes that European settlers encountered 160 years ago. …

If we want to restore our forests we must take it upon ourselves to manage forest resources proactively. Because we have allowed an uncharacteristic accumulation of fuels in our forests, we can expect uncharacteristic environmental consequences unless we reduce fuel loads.



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