Over the last 20 years, we have heard of many attempts to create legislation that will improve the management of our National Forests and public lands. There was the Healthy Forest Restoration Act under the Bush administration. It says a lot of good things, but it still fails to address the scale of the problem. There have been other attempts at legislation, but none have made it to law. In my opinion, the reason for this is simple. The language has failed to capture the essence of what the public wants. It either goes too far, and few Democrats support it, or doesn’t go far enough and loses momentum. Continue reading “Westerman Bill”
In Northeast Washington on August 1st, 2017 we woke up to smoke from wildfires. It wasn’t as thick here as it was in other areas, but it was bad at varying levels throughout the month. Now that September has started it feels like August was clear. The smoke is so thick that visibility is impaired within 100 yards and nearly nonexistent within a mile. Your eyes burn and you find yourself continually coughing. There’s no escape. Some people have been living with it throughout the west like this every day for well over a month. This is smoke pollution and it’s likely to be a problem for years. Continue reading “Smoke Pollution”
Hot Weather Equals Summer Smoke
August 2017 has covered much of the West with a blanket of smoke. Although the media has been portraying this as coming from the BC fires, there are fires throughout the region and there’s bound to be more. This is unfortunate for everyone and our forests.
Growing up in the Inland Northwest in the 80’s and 90’s summers were great. We knew fire was always possible, but it wasn’t a clear and present danger like it is now. The last few years the summers as we knew them only last for about a month. As soon as July rolls around it seems like a matter of time before the smoke rolls in. The fires are so big now, that the smoke doesn’t even have to be from fires in the immediate area.
Summer in the New West
Many people talk about how this is a result of climate change and past logging practices. Although there may be shards of truth in those positions, I don’t believe it’s the real story. Continue reading “The New West”
The topic of wildfire raises the level of awareness of our forests. Some of this is good. People become aware and then they are compelled to act. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if they are going to act in the right manner.
Wildfire in the West
In the fire-prone forests of the Intermountain West, fire is part of life. These forests have adapted to survive regular fire intervals for centuries. Ponderosa Pines and Western Larch are prime examples of species that are specifically capable of withstanding significant fire. Unfortunately, some of our actions have put even the most capable trees at risk. These actions and subsequent inactions have put entire forests and massive ecosystems at risk.
A to Z Hearing Video
Since publishing the A to Z blog post, readers have been asking how the court appearance actually went. Many of you may know how to find these videos, but in case you didn’t here it is. This is the 34-minute video of the appeal hearing. It was quite interesting to be there in person.
There’s a great deal of talk in today’s forest management circles about the use of prescribed fire as a tool to manage forests. Fire can certainly be a great tool to reduce forest fuels and maintain tree spacing. It’s been used by mother nature for eons. So much so that many tree species like Ponderosa Pine and Western Larch have become resistant to fire in order to survive the regular intervals of lightning caused fires.
Active Management and Prescribed Fire
Prescribed fire should be used in conjunction with active forest management. There are certainly areas where fire might be used on it’s own. It’s ideally performed in the front country with established road systems. In these areas we can commercially thin or log these areas to achieve historical spacing. The next season it could be very beneficial to conduct prescribed fire.
If we are going to get better at managing lands we need a better land allocation method. All lands need to be inventoried and grouped together based on desired outcomes. We see three necessary land designations. Actively managed lands, conservation managed lands and protected as backcountry. In doing this we can align management that is appropriate for each specific landscape. We need to create a management strategy that is efficient, compassionate, and effective.
With so many acres facing the imminent risk catastrophic fire, we need to develop a nationwide strategy for effective forest treatment. Many collaborative groups have laid the groundwork for what is appropriate in their local areas. By identifying which lands are eligible for active management and conservation focus we can assign the appropriate treatment for each area. Continue reading “Federal Land Management 2.017”
I have been meaning to use more video to tell our story. Here’s my first shot at doing that. This is the active management portion of the Era of Megafires presentation that Paul Hessburg with the Pacific Northwest Research Station put together with North40 Productions, both from Wenatchee, Washington. Vaagen Bros contributed much of the raw video.
I was interviewed along with Mike Petersen, Executive Director of The Lands Council. As you will see in the video, Mike and his organization were not supporters of active management during the time known as the “Timber Wars”. However, due to consistent collaboration with other community members in Northeast Washington, there is a new way of managing the Colville National Forest. Mike and I believe that we are getting closer to fixing many of the problems of the past to create a new future for our forests and rural communities that depend on them.
Why is it important to care about healthy forests? To some of you, it must seem simple and you may even intuitively feel like you know why it’s important. There’s a reason I ask “why.”
I recently had a discussion with my sister Emily. We were talking about podcasts and TED talks. She asked me if I’d listened to Simon Sinek’s TEDx Talk about “why.” I hadn’t – So, I immediately did a search for it and opened it up to be sure it was the right one, which she confirmed.
Later that evening I made some time to watch it. It was fascinating. I would encourage you to check it out for yourself. Basically, he says that we all have a biological need to know why it is that we’re doing something. When we know “why” we can get behind a cause. We feel that cause and work diligently to see if come to fruition, regardless of the odds. An example that he gave was the Wright Brothers and their pursuit of flight while there were many other entities that had more money and more support staff. They were able to do it because they absolutely knew their “why.”
So why is great forest management so important to all of us? Forests are beautiful, resilient systems that provide all kinds of benefits for us. The big push in the 80’s and 90’s was to leave that system alone and allow it to be natural. It’s a novel concept that can actually work in some areas of the remote backcountry. In the reality we now know there are dire consequences to leaving the forests alone.
People have become an integral part of the forests. Human activity influences the way forests grow, the way they die, and how they die. When we cut trees the forest doesn’t necessarily die or have to start over. We can thin forests and we can mimic natural openings that allow forests to operate much like they would naturally. Why is this important?
Well, we need to ensure fires don’t get out of control and create mega-fires that scorch the earth and burn everything in their paths. Because of public safety, we will always put fires out and strive to keep them at bay. We must manage the forest systems by thinning, creating openings, and leaving clusters of trees. This will recreate a natural forest type that is resilient to insects, disease and that is ultimately fire. When managed properly in this way, fires can actually be beneficial for the landscape and can also be safely managed.
So why do I do this? Why is it critically important to me? Because I can easily see that we can have all the abundance we want from the forest. We can provide rural jobs in the forest, where the labor of proper thinning and grooming is done. We can also offer rural jobs in the mills, using of the byproducts of forest management to make lumber. We can develop emerging mass timber products that allow us to build better wooden structures in the ever-changing and growing urban landscape. And we can begin to reverse the massive carbon pollution and destruction that mega-fires cause in our forests, by removing some of the small and medium sized trees that threaten the forest as a whole.
I see a historic battle of rhetoric that is built on mistrust and past war wounds. We need to set aside our biases and do what’s best for the forests and the people. This act of intentional balance can be achieved to benefit everything and everyone that depends on our forests. At the end of the day what better “why” is there?