Our federal forests can be saved with active management

2014-02-23 Ashley Bach

There is one thing our local, state and federal governments can agree on: our nation's federal forests are in poor health. We are facing a record wildfire season this year and federal forests across the West are diseased by pine beetles, spruce budworms and root rot.

But what's lost in the shuffle is the fact that more than anything, active forest management is the key to keeping forests healthy, and a lack of forest management, especially from federal leaders, is the reason why so many of our forests are in bad shape.

Federal forest management practices severely lag behind our current knowledge for improving forest health, which in turn creates risks and costly wildfires.

Federal leaders are starting to catch on - albeit in modest ways and after the fact - spending millions on forest thinning projects and at least attempting to commit to salvage logging after wildfires. Even a key national environmentalist is now supporting salvage logging.

Good forest managers, though, manage their land week after week and year after year. They anticipate and adjust to changing conditions with savvy and resilience. In Washington, these private and state forest managers buy seeds from one of 20 forest tree nurseries to replant after sustainable harvest. They consult with the state's Washington Tree Seed Transfer Zones guide to check the seeds are right for their forest's climate and elevation.

They take classes or workshops from the Washington State University Forestry and Wildlife Extension program. When they need more information, they consult with WSU's extensive list of forestry resouces and documents, literally the A to Z of forestry in Washington.

When Douglas Fir root rot hits, they replant with rot-resistant species like white pine, red alder or western red cedar around the infected areas. If they live in especially insect-prone areas like Okanogan, Ferry, Klickitat or Yakima counties, they may share in the cost of thinning with the state Department of Natural Resources.

America's forests are struggling because of a dearth of vigilance, and they will recover when all the managers of our forests do their jobs with vision instead of neglect. Our neighbors to the south, the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, put it well:

It is a common misconception that the best way to protect a forest is to be hands-off, but with generations of forest management and harvesting experience, we’ve learned that it’s not always best to simply walk away. All forests need some form of management to ensure their health and sustainability...Active forest management helps balance a forest’s environmental social and economic values, providing the wood products and recreational access that society desires.