California wildfires point to need for active forest management

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The intense and deadly wildfires burning this month in California have shed light on the need for active forest management to make forests less susceptible to large fires.

Russ Vaagen of Vaagen Timbers in Northeast Washington writes on his blog that forest thinning has to be part of the set of solutions to improving forest health. And that forest management as practiced in the Colville National Forest is not how some critics of logging try to portray.

We need to stop with the reactions and start getting to the facts. I have been part of a forest collaborative for over 15 years and for most of the last decade, I’ve been the president of the Northeast Washington Forest Coalition. We have worked together with conservation interests, community interests, the forest industry, and the Forest Service to come up with plans that work for the forest. This has resulted in over 40 projects on the Colville National Forest that have received support from the community. Now tribal, recreation, and grazing interests are taking a more active role in the development of larger-scale projects that are 50,000 acres or more.

These landscape level projects are not blatant logging jobs designed to clear-cut our forests and subsidize logs to the local mills. It’s quite the opposite. We focus on what’s needed in our forests and what we can do to get them back to natural resilience. Resilient to fire and other pathogens that negatively affect the forest and the ecosystem it helps maintain. The logs and other products of value are a byproduct of the efforts to restore the forests. This is an ideal situation for our forests.

Washington Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz told KOMO 4 last week that, “what we are seeing in California is an absolute wake up call for the people of this state. What’s happening there is very possible on our landscape even though it’s different, we are seeing hotter and drier weather.”

We have a forest health crisis across the state with 2.7 million acres diseased and dying. The Washington State Department of Natural Resources is working to change that with a forest health plan that will treat 70,000 acres each year over the next 20 years by removing trees, thinning and using prescribed burns.

“If you ever look at an area where the forest has been treated, fire almost literally stops right at the area of the forest that has been treated. It becomes its own natural buffer,” said Franz.

The Everett Herald editorial board says that more federal and state funding is needed.

Wildfires don’t stay behind fences. And hazards within forest lands, whether public or private, are hazards to all lands and communities.

State and federal officials must make necessary investments to prevent, limit and fight wildfires, but we as taxpayers must be prepared to fund those investments.

“Only you,” as Smokey Bear has long reminded us, “can prevent forest fires.”