Post harvest thinning with logs stacked in the foreground
Post-harvest thinning with logs stacked in the foreground.  An example of working towards healthy forests with by-products going to rural businesses

The forest industry has come a long way in producing one of, if not the best building product for the environment.  As I was checking my LinkedIn feed I came across this video about the life cycle of wood.  It’s incredibly well done and I believe it to be accurate.  I think the strides in forestland certification have helped, but what about the other forests that are being all but ignored?

I can tell you the groups that I work with are not ignoring these lands.  Last week I spent two and a half hours with the executive committee of the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition working on issues within the Colville National Forest.  Forest Companies are managing private timberlands in ways that are ecologically and financially sustainable.  At the same time forest lands operated by the US Forest Service struggle with budgets and personnel that allow them to manage merely percentage points of forests in need.  How is this possible?

When I try to explain this to my friends in Canada or Europe they look at me like I must be mistaken.  The Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition is always working, just like many other collaborative groups in the west, to simply clean up our neglected forest lands.


Massive Smoke being released from a mega-fire in the Western United States
Massive Smoke being released from a mega-fire in the Western United States

After years of little to no management, the backlog of need is showing up in the form of big fires.  Wildfires contribute to carbon pollution and accelerate climate change.

If we can complete landscape level treatments to make our forests healthier, and the by-product of this important work is small logs that can produce the types of products described in this video from reThink Wood.

Our management actions are much bigger than just certifying that forests are sustainable.   It’s making sure our forests look and act the way the American public believes they are.

Northern bend of the Columbia River, which is part of the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area
Northern bend of the Columbia River, which is part of the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area.  A vision of forests that many Americans share: Beauty, recreation, and healthy environments

Congress needs to act to fix these issues that are hindering progress.  When collaboration is working, special interest groups that choose not to be part of the process shouldn’t have the legal right to stop the collaborative agreements.

There are many instances of special interest groups using the courts to stop collaborative projects.  It’s not right.  The US Forest Service needs an organizational shift to move away from being risk averse and more towards doing the right things on each landscape.  The attitude needs to go from finding all the reasons not to go forward, to an approach of setting goals and figuring out how to get things done with purpose and urgency.

I know there may be many members of the Forest Service reading this.  I don’t mean to be disrespectful.  You’re all trying to do a good job.  Even with the best efforts the system that is in place now has several fatal flaws.

First of all, there’s no real accountability to anyone outside the Forest Service.   If your peers think you’re doing good, but the area mills are starved for logs because of internal delays or mistakes, employees still get promoted.  Speaking of promotions, the relocation of Forest Service staff is way out of hand.  The Forest Service believes that moving employees around makes them more well-rounded and builds a strong base.  Both of those are good concepts, but at some point, the employees need to stay in place to implement those well-rounded skills. Currently, it seems that each leadership position cycles between 2 and 5 years.  Fires are also a major impediment to forest health treatments, not just because of the burned acres, but the interruption of needed work by staff training and managing fires.  The same people that are required to get forest restoration projects implemented are the same US Forest Service staff that are training for fire suppression and managing wildfires during fire season.  How much time do these people have to get their work done if they are training and working on wildfires?

When we’re dealing with millions of forested acres that take generations to grow how is this process ever going to work?  If collaboration is ever going to be effective, collaboratives need to work with Forest Service leadership for at least a decade to maintain momentum and build a cohesive vision for landscape level forest health

There’s way too much organizational know-how in this country to just simply complain and not address this issue.  Our rural forested communities can be creating jobs, managing the appropriate forested lands for generations to come while providing all the essential building products for our rural and urban communities.  We can do better and for the sake of the forest and the environment, we need to do much better.  We need to share our collective vision of healthy forests and healthy forested communities with Congress to make the necessary changes to get and keep the forests we love.