Seattle Times: Taylor Bridge Fire shows need for more active forest management

2012-08-17 Ashley Bach

The Taylor Bridge Fire, which has burned over 22,000 acres in Kittitas County, shows that our state's forest management isn't working, according to the Seattle Times editorial board.

It's past time for forest-management practices to catch up with the trees, and the state Department of Natural Resources has been trying to make that happen.

In January, Peter Goldmark, state commissioner of public lands, formed an advisory committee on forest health. After its report was released in July, Goldmark proposed issuing a hazard warning for parts of Washington, including Kittitas County where the Taylor Bridge fire is burning...

...The advisory committee's report noted that in the past, frequent fires more naturally managed tree density and diversity in Eastern Washington forests, but effective fire suppression over the past century has resulted in increased tree density and more homogeneous forest composition.

According to the Times, state forest policy needs much more than a hazard warning.

Once the Taylor Bridge fire is out, planning needs to be ramped up for a strategic plan for wildland fire protection that matches the forests of today.

Down in Oregon, Andy Kerr, a longtime environmentalist, has come out with a plan to increase the timber harvest, but timber industry leaders say it's a smokescreen for the true problems with the state's forest policy.

Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council, says Kerr’s study aims to take focus off the real issue: the supposedly 4 million acres of “matrix” multipurpose land that had been promised to timber companies in the Northwest Forest Plan. Those multiple purposes include thinning, clearcutting or other harvesting techniques by timber companies. Environmentalists are fighting to prevent harvesting, Partin adds, and the federal government has delayed action because of persistent litigation.

Kerr’s study “has good points,” Partin says, and a lot of thinning does need to happen. But, “we have to have more of a landscape approach rather than thinning.” He says that the western side of Oregon has matrix land that has to be addressed.

“In the Northwest Forest Plan, you can only thin and treat them until they reach age 80. At that point in time, they’re supposed to be off limits. What happens when they reach age 80? What do we do with those lands and the rest of the forest?”