There was a constructive and conciliatory mood among the many speakers at the Washington Forest Protection Association annual meeting this week in Olympia. In the wake of the Nov. 6 election, lawmakers - both current and former - from both sides of the aisle talked about the importance of working together to overcome differences and reach solutions.
This spirit was on display in a panel discussion about Forest Health & Wildfires. Participating were an expert mix of federal and state timber officials, timber industry leaders and environmental groups:
- Vicki Christiansen, Associate Deputy Chief in State & Private Forestry for the U.S. Forest Service
- Scott Ketchum, General Manager, Northern Inland Division for Hancock Forest Management
- Aaron Everett, Washington State Forester and Deputy Supervisor for Forest Practices and Federal Relations for the state Department of Natural Resources
- James Schroeder, Director of Conservation Programs, Eastern Washington for The Nature Conservancy
What was immediately clear is that forest health and wildfires across the West are in an unprecedented state of crisis (we most recently wrote about wildfires here and here). According to Christiansen, the West's wildfire season is 78 days longer than it was in the late 1980s. Nine million acres burned this year - the average was just 3 million acres in the '70s and '80s.
The blame game often rings out when major wildfires rip through the landscape - the feds blame the local leaders, the local leaders blame state leaders and so on. But our country's forests are only going to be better managed by all the stakeholders working together, the panelists said.
These "collaboratives" (like these ones), which have formed all over Washington and other Western states, need to be intensely focused on local concerns. "It's not a program - it has to be about a place," Christiansen said.
The collaboratives are impressive, Ketchum said, because "they're changing the conversation. They're not fighting the timber wars of the last 25 years." But they also have serious challenges. For instance, there are so many collaboratives now that they compete for a limited pool of federal funds. Many of the groups do not meet their wilderness or harvest targets.
But that doesn't mean the groups should go away. There could be changes on the federal level to allow more funding, and the various stakeholders that comprise these collaboratives are still learning to work together, the panelists said.
There are other reasons for hope, like the promise of creating jet fuel in Washington from feedstock and woody biomass, the panelists said. This would be a combination of two great state industries: aerospace and forestry, according to Everett of the Washington Department of Natural Resources. "Our view of (jet fuel and biomass) is wild optimism and great opportunity."