Skamania County declares a state of emergency over federal forests


The lack of federal forest management is hurting rural communities across the West, and Skamania County, Wash., is among the worst hit in the country.

Time after time, local leaders call on the U.S. Forest Service to start finally managing the surrounding Gifford Pinchot National Forest and make it the economic engine it’s set in law to be. Now, after years of neglect, the county last week declared a state of emergency.

The declaration from the Skamania County Board of Commissioners (which you can read in full here) was necessary because of “unhealthy forest conditions, yearly threat of catastrophic fires, and, minimal county government, schools and emergency services.”

According to the county, the move was an act of desperation after all other avenues were tried, as reported by the Vancouver Columbian:

Skamania County leaders have long called for an increase to tax-generating timber harvests on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, which used to be one of the biggest timber producers in the Northwest. With almost 90 percent of the county’s land owned by the federal and state governments, the county’s fate is determined largely by land it doesn’t control. Yet despite repeated pleas, the dire situation hasn’t improved, said Skamania County Commissioner Chris Brong.

“They’re tone deaf. They just don’t respond,” Brong said. “I have to question whether they’re even reading the materials that we’re sending them.”

Eighty percent of Skamania County is taken up by the Gifford Pinchot National Forest; another 8 percent is owned by the state, and another 10 percent of the county is private timberland, which generates significant tax reveue only when it’s harvested. That means only 2 percent of the county is private, regularly taxed property.

And things could get even worse.

The Forest Service wants to buy up 3,000 acres of private timberland near Mount St. Helens, which would put even more property under federal control and likely ensure it will never generate any revenue for the local community.

Skamania County commissioners opposed the sale in a letter to the Forest Service this month, but does the Forest Service care?

“The further reduction of private lands for property tax purposes further erodes funding for county government services, schools, and emergency services,” the commissioners wrote (in the letter).

It’s doubly frustrating to see this kind of federal inaction, when community leaders across the West grasp the need for active management of our federal forests. Just last week, the Coeur d’ Alene Press newspaper in Idaho said after years of research it supports reasonable management of the state’s forests.

After studying forestry issues for many years and meeting this week with a group of timber industry experts, the editorial board of this newspaper is convinced that barriers to sensible timber harvests should be removed not just to boost Idaho industry, but to help the forests themselves.

Going back two decades or more to research conducted by Professor Wally Covington of Northern Arizona University, among others, a preponderance of science supports the conclusion that thinning and actively maintaining our forests is the best way to preserve them and to assist Mother Nature in other ways, too. Thinning and actively maintaining includes harvesting timber. Doing so creates jobs and bolsters the economy, but it also clears debris which feeds forest fires threatening human life and property while also harboring harmful insects and disease which will ruin otherwise healthy trees. There is no solid argument, environmentally or economically, for a hands-off management style with our state and national forests.

Our local communities understand why our federal forests need to be actively managed. Why can’t the owners of these forests get it?

As the Coeur d’ Alene Press writes, environmental protection and forest management go hand and hand.

Now it’s time for the pendulum to swing back toward a middle ground which protects the environment while helping resource-rich America reach its economic potential. Economy and environment can live happily together. For the sake of future generations of Americans, they must.