March April, 2003

 

 

 

 

LIKE ANY ASSET, OUR FORESTS NEED PROPER MANAGEMENT

 

GUEST COLUMNIST

David S. Hill, Executive Vice President, Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association

Attendees at the 65th annual Oregon Logging Conference (OLC) in Eugene, Ore. last month listened to Jim Peterson, Executive Director of the Evergreen Foundation and Evergreen Magazine, call for broad forest products industry support for President George W. Bushís Healthy Forests Initiative. Attendees also heard Hal Salwasser, Dean of the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, say that the Northwest Forest Plan is broken and cannot be fixed.

Are these contradictory statements from two highly respected forest policy experts? I donít think so and here is why. Mr. Peterson said President Bush has called upon the forest products industry to help him implement on-the-ground management activities that will return our public forestlands to a healthy and sustainable condition. Alack of active management during the 1990ís has left public forestlands in the West badly overgrown and seriously at risk of standreplacing fires.

Region 6 of the Forest Service released statistics in October of 2002 that document this overstocking and unsustainable fuels buildup situation. For example, on the Siskiyou National Forest (SNF), net merchantable boardfoot growth per year measured from plot data an estimated 833 million board feet. For the ten years between 1990 and 1999, average annual cut volume on the SNF was 43.5 million board feet. Can you go ten years gaining eight pounds per year and shedding but half a pound per year without suffering serious health effects?

Probably not and neither can our public forests. Dean Salwasser, in response to a question from the audience, said President Clintonís Northwest Forest Plan is beyond repair. I interpreted the Deanís comment as meaning that unless all aspects of the Plan are implemented simultaneously, the Plan cannot contribute the environmental, economic and social outputs it was designed to produce. The environmental health of our public forests cannot be assured unless harvest, thinning and fuels reduction work is occurring throughout the forest.

This forest work must be completed in a positive economic climate that will help maintain our rural communities and contribute to our social well-being. Social programs do not exist without jobs and economic development. The Bush Administration has undertaken a series of changes to make national forest management decisions "cheaper, faster and better." Some of the changes involve streamlined planning regulations, categorical exclusions (CEís) for fire suppression projects, CEís for timber sales of fire-killed timber or insect or disease-infected timber, and time limits on appeals of planned forest projects.

If oneís objective is to help our public land management agencies improve the health of our national forests, it is hard to argue against these administrative changes. If oneís objective is to stop all national forest management activities, objections are easy and often allowed. For those who do object to the management of our national forests, the consequences of no action are substantial. The Biscuit Fire of 2002 on the SNF is emblematic of the future of our national forests without active management.

This one fire burned approximately 500,000 acres of the SNF. Environmentally, the Forest suffered great losses: some 49 of the Forestís 202 known spotted owl territories were affected; some 159,000+ acres of Late Successional Reserve acres burned; and in excess of 323,000 acres of watersheds with streams contributing spawning and rearing habitat for endangered Coho salmon were within the fire perimeter. Economically, without an active salvage program in a timely fashion, some 1.1 billion board feet of fire-killed timber outside of wilderness areas is wasting as an Environmental Impact Statement is written.

The SNF estimate is that in excess of $300 million of salvageable timber lies within two miles of existing roads. Should the argument be made that not salvaging fire-killed federal timber is an abuse of government property? Socially, small rural communities in the West cannot survive without the active management of our federal forests. Dean Salwasser also spoke to the Logging Conference participants about the forests of the West being one of our greatest natural assets.

He likened our forests to an endowment that is being allowed to shrink away. People need to be active to stay healthy and so do our forests. Locking up our forests will not preserve them or protect them. Or as Greg Mill, Executive Vice President of SOTIA1 said in 1991: "Simply put, we are like people starving to death in a frozen food locker." Jim Peterson and Hal Salwasser were both correct.

We need to support President Bushís Healthy Forests Initiative. It is the right thing to do and will lead to the "common sense" management that our public forests require. We need to implement all aspects of any management plan to produce the environmental, economic and social benefits we all ask from our public forests. There is no better time to talk with your local elected officials about the need for an active management program on our public forestlands. Your effort will be rewarded with healthy forests and a strong and secure local community.

Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association (SOTIA) is a 95-member company trade association established in Medford in 1947.

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This page was last updated on Tuesday, September 28, 2004