Aug 07, 2013
Just like we’ve seen in past summers, large wildfires are leading the evening news as big tracts of federal forests go up in smoke. Large fires are burning in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and elsewhere in the west. We’ve seen over 2.4 million acres burned so far, with more to come. Let’s not forget the lives lost, including more than 30 firefighters.
Even though the Forest Service manages about only 25% of the nation’s forests, they have more fires, and more acres burned, than other forests across the country. Some argue that the fires burning out west are solely the result of climate change.
Even if true (I don’t agree), that’s no excuse for neglecting to take necessary action to reduce the number of fires.
When forests burn catastrophically, they not only destroy valuable timber, these fires can char the soil, damage the watershed, and impede water yield for decades. Farmers, ranchers, and small towns all suffer. Even the wildlife, including birds and animals, are burned to death.
Our forests need to be thinned. The lack of harvest in our federal forests has let the number of trees per acre skyrocket. Many of our forests which should have between 80 and 100 trees per acre have stands with as many as 800. The situation gets worse the longer we allow our overstocked national forests to keep growing. Harvests plummeted in the late 1980s and got worse in the 1990s when Forest Management adopted a plan to reduce harvest rates, set aside millions of acres, and instituted "let it be" management that has allowed forests to overgrow, setting up the tinderbox we see every summer.
The Forest Service, which is part of the Department of Agriculture, can do better. They can manage these forests to prevent fires, produce timber, and protect our watershed and water supplies. Congress and the Secretary of Agriculture need to give the Forest Service the tools, and the resources, and tell them to get to work.