Forest decline can be fought with smart policies


The New York Times recently painted a bleak picture of the future of our world’s forests. Driven by population growth, climate change and the continued emission of greenhouse gases, the world’s forests are being decimated by massive wildfires, drought, deforestation and beetles.

The Times certainly did its research. The primary story is accompanied by an 8-minute video and blog post about the Arizona wildfire situation, as well as a follow-up Q & A with the lead reporter on the project.

What’s most frustrating out of the article is how much research has been completed on the worldwide decline of forests — as well as solutions that would work — but how little money or political will there is to get anything done.

The timber industry has seen this inaction most vividly in the mismanagement of forests in the West. It’s no coincidence that the Times project spends so much time in Arizona, which just weathered the Wallow Fire, the worst wildfire in state history. Despite agreement from environmental groups, timber companies and public officials that the forests should be thinned to prevent catastrophic fires, the thinning is not happening on nearly the scale that it should. This is a problem that we wrote about in June.

From the Times blog post:

Many now believe the solution, across much of the West, is to cut down the spindly dog-hair trees and restore forests to something akin to historic density levels, at times reducing the tree cover from as many as 800 an acre to fewer than 100…

Many experts say treating forests pre-emptively could be more cost-effective than fighting huge forest fires. Yet, in tight budget times, the United States Forest Service does not have nearly enough money to do the work. Still, a new program called the Four Forests Restoration Initiative is taking shape and aims to thin more acres.

“The big limitation on all of this, when we’re talking about treating the forest, is economics,” said (Christopher M.) Knopp, the Forest Service supervisor. The Wallow Fire “points out that the quantity of material that we’ve been able to treat, even though it was strategic and was logical, it wasn’t enough.”

As we wrote, the Four Forests Restoration Initiative in Arizona is a good example of the hallowness of federal forest policy. It could really protect the state’s forests from big wildfires if fully implemented, but the program is not even close to full implementation.

The Times reporter points out that the condition of our forests will only improve once citizens demand smart policies from our politicians. For those of us who care about working forests, this means supporting only elected officials who understand the power of biomass to wean ourselves off fossil fuels and of thinning forests to keep them healthy and safe from wildfire.

These are things that we must demand of our representatives.