Things are a-changing here in our national forests, and possibly, after years of marginal management practices and environmental policy blunders, for the better. President Trump’s executive order is meant to upend years of exclusionary use regimes, and let the national lands again enjoy a ‘multiple use’ concepts that benefit all Americans . . . Bruce Coe, Central Washington Sentinel~~~
In December of 2018, President Donald Trump issued an executive order intended to deal with the issues surrounding federal management of forest assets in the United States. Those issues were, broadly, forest health, productivity, fire suppression, and rural economies. We’re finally beginning to see some agency response to this executive order.
Earlier last year Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz signed an interagency agreement that provided cross-boundary cooperative management of forest resources, a big deal in many ways because it allowed for common forest management practices to work across the boundaries of state and federal lands. Though touted as a marvel of bureaucratic cooperation between forest management and fish/game agencies, the agreement just ratified what had been going on for years – cooperation between state and federal agencies to comply with the legion of lawsuits that had directed forest management for the last 50 years.
The scattershot nature of those policies concentrated policy objectives into specific areas of concern – fish habitat, species preservation, wetlands and watershed retention, and others. However beneficial and important those actions may have been, the result was that the resources that went into managing crisis hotspots prevented the agencies from concentrating on the overall health of forests and the impact of healthy forests on rural communities. While climate change is a frequently-quoted contributor, you don’t have to believe in climate change to believe that proper forest management can alleviate all or most of the forest management issues that confront us today.
It’s taken 5 years of catastrophic fires in the western parts of Canada and the United States to prod the sleeping Federal giants into some kind of action, and it has taken a president who is willing to meet problems head-on to direct those agencies to come into line with what many are calling the New Forestry and deal with those issues.
A Presidential Document by the Executive Office of the President # 13855 begins with this:
“Section 1. Policy. It is the policy of the United States to protect people, communities, and watersheds, and to promote healthy and resilient forests, rangelands, and other Federal lands by actively managing them through partnerships with States, tribes, communities, non-profit organizations, and the private sector. For decades, dense trees and undergrowth have amassed in these lands, fueling catastrophic wildfires. These conditions, along with insect infestation, invasive species, disease, and drought, have weakened our forests, rangelands, and other Federal lands, and have placed communities and homes at risk of damage from catastrophic wildfires.
Active management of vegetation is needed to treat these dangerous conditions on Federal lands but is often delayed due to challenges associated with regulatory analysis and current consultation requirements. In addition, land designations and policies can reduce emergency responder access to Federal land and restrict management practices that can promote wildfire-resistant landscapes. With the same vigor and commitment that characterizes our efforts to fight wildfires, we must actively manage our forests, rangelands, and other Federal lands to improve conditions and reduce wildfire risk.
In recognition of these regulatory, policy, and coordinating challenges, the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture (the Secretaries) each shall implement the following policies in their respective departments…”
The order, all 1782 words of it, goes on to name the agencies involved (USFS, DOI, BIA and many others) to manage to the following principles:
- Coordinating Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Assets.
- Wildfire prevention and suppression and post-wildfire restoration
- Removing Hazardous Fuels, Increasing Active Management, supporting Rural Economies.
- Protecting communities and watersheds, to better prevent catastrophic wildfires, and to improve the health of America’s forests, rangelands, and other Federal lands.
Kittitas County, and especially the area known as the Upper county – basically the heavily forested areas of the county – has depended on forests ever since the venerable Fir genus was accepted as the one wood that would satisfy the strength required for modern truss building systems. It’s not a stretch to say that the fir species enabled affordable housing for millions of families in the last 100 years.
Today we rely on our forests for tourism and recreation which has largely replaced the logging economies that helped support our rural communities for a hundred years or so. But it looks like the forest products aspect of our economy might be kicking in again. The executive order directed federal agencies to:
- Treat 3.5 million acres of Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service (FS) lands to reduce fuel load;
- Treat 2.2 million acres of USDA FS lands to protect water quality and mitigate severe flooding and erosion risks arising from forest fires;
- Treat 750,000 acres of USDA FS lands for native and invasive species;
- Reduce vegetation giving rise to wildfire conditions through forest health treatments by increasing health treatments as part of USDA’s offering for sale at least 3.8 billion board feet of timber from USDA FS lands; and
- Perform maintenance on roads needed to provide access on USDA FS lands for emergency services and restoration work.
Where do you suppose the manpower required to satisfy these directives going to come from? Rural communities. What happens to the timber that comes off the land after restoration? It goes into chip or sawmills to be turned into one of three things: pulp, fuel or structural timber.
What does that mean for our community? Maybe a new mill here in Upper Kittitas County . . . Maybe?