'Inert' forest policy dangerous to us
September 30, 2020
Zombie apocalypse forest fire infernos in California, Oregon and Washington seem out of human control.
But wait, let us look. To some, protecting forests means taking a “hands off” approach. But protecting forests must include responsible and active forest management.
Oregon is about half forest (30 million acres). Who owns it? Ownership matters.
The federal government owns 60% (U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management/BLM with 18 million acres that carry 17% dead/zombie trees per acre). This federal tree mortality rate is twice the rate of standing dead trees on private lands.
This is profoundly serious. Why? Because Oregon has much more national forestland than any other type.
According to an analysis commissioned by Oregon Forest Resource Institute (2017), more than 350 million individual trees are standing dead in Oregon’s 14 million federally-owned, low productivity forestland acres.
The bad news gets worse if federal forest management in Oregon does not change: tree mortality will increase.
In 1985, Oregon’s annual timber harvest was 8 billion board feet. After the spotted owl listing and the Northwest Forest Plan, Ore-gon’s annual total timber harvest has dropped to half of that: 4 billion board feet, with only 15% coming from federal land, which is 60% of Oregon’s forestland.
Today, private and Native American owned forests (36% of Oregon’s forests) account for 76% of Oregon’s timber harvests. These are actively managed forests with fewer dead trees and fewer catastrophic forest infernos.
In all types of Oregon forests, growth rate exceeds harvesting rate. Federal forests in Oregon use passive, “hands off” forest management and strangely little harvesting (only 8% of growth) have an alarmingly high (29%) tree mortality.
According to a 2017 OFRI, analysis, privately owned and Native American forestlands, which are actively managed, have the highest timber harvest rate (75% of total growth), and have only 11% tree mortality.
Standing dead trees fuel wildfires and overcrowded forests (passively managed) burn abnormally hotter and sustain more tree mortality than actively managed forests.
Timber experts and forest studies say a major answer for extreme fires is active forest management long before a fire ignites, yet federal and some state forest policies and practices do not currently allow active forest management practices before the fire such as: increased harvests, thinning, brush control, insect treatment and controlled burning.
Active forest management also includes assertive fire suppression tactics once a fire ignites rather than the passive federal “monitoring.”
Inert federal bureaucratic forest practices implemented in Ore-gon need to be replaced by proven, active forest management practices.
The change may have to start at the local and state levels, where there’s smoke, recent memories, motivation and clearer thinking than in D.C.