OPINION: Want to reduce wildfires? Manage Oregon's federal forests
In response to their recent guest column about salvage logging, John Talberth and Ernie Niemi shouldn't worry.
There won't be a large-scale recovery effort on federal lands after this year's wildfires. Millions of dead and dying trees won't be recovered. Instead, they will be left rotting, emitting more carbon into the air, polluting our water with runoff, and creating fuel for future fires. And there will be no significant reforestation on federal lands either.
An overwhelming majority of these lands will go untouched, regardless of the impacts to wildlife habitat, watersheds and other forest values. Hopefully our great, great-grandchildren will be able to enjoy these forests as we once did.
Due to our current, litigation-driven system of federal forest management, we will be lucky if our public lands managers successfully remove some dead and dying trees along roadsides, campgrounds and other areas so they don't pose risks to the public. But this may not happen, either, because anti-forestry groups sometimes sue federal agencies to stop those efforts, too.
Talberth and Niemi like to insult loggers, who dropped everything and risked their lives to help save their communities and forests this summer. Oregon loggers volunteered and used their own equipment to build containment lines and cut still-burning trees in places firefighters wouldn't even go.
Today, loggers are working on private lands, removing dead and dying trees so they can be turned into lumber and other products people use every day. Foresters are working quickly to stabilize riverbanks and prevent toxic runoff into streams over soils. Millions upon millions of seedlings will be planted so that private forests can once again be green, productive and healthy.
There are many factors that contribute to the growth and intensity of wildfires, including wind, heat and fuel. Often, we cannot prevent ignitions. And we certainly can't control historic windstorms that occur at the peak of summertime when our forests are extremely dry. When they do occur, an unnaturally hot fire in dense fuels can burn through everything in its path at incredibly high speeds.
The one factor we can control is fuel, and this can be done through proactive and science-based forest management. Some of this work is noncommercial, but we can help our forests become more resilient to fire through mechanical thinning.
Talberth and Niemi ignore the fact that 60% of Oregon's forestlands are owned by the federal government. And federal lands account for the majority of Oregon lands considered to be at the highest risk of catastrophic wildfire.
Only a third of Oregon's forests are unreserved and prioritized for active forest management. Due to anti-forestry litigation and obstruction, the vast majority of federal lands in Oregon are not being proactively managed. And this is a big reason why 86% of the forested acres that have burned in Oregon in the past decade were on federal lands.
Every fire season, anti-forestry activists engage in deflection. They don't want to be blamed for blocking important forest management projects. So, they blame the people whose livelihoods depend on healthy forests, and the forest landowners who already contribute the most funding to firefighting, compared to any other state in the West.
Talberth and Niemi shouldn't worry. Under the status quo, devastating wildfires will continue and more of our federally owned forests will be converted into seas of dead trees and shrublands.
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