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home : opinion : columnists May 27, 2016

6/5/2013 1:43:00 PM
Forests primed for another disaster
Bill Forhan

Cruising over Blewett Pass this weekend on our way to celebrate my granddaughter's first birthday, I couldn't help but notice the fire hazard still lingering on the west side of the road.

Tinder dry dead trees that escaped last year's inferno still remain for just the right spark to begin the inferno anew. To some extent I pray that a new fire will come and remove the blight caused by years of benign neglect and misguided environmental policies that call for a "natural" restoration of our national heritage.

There is no better example of the how well meaning policies can go awry than the case of saving the Northern Spotted Owl. According to Mike Dubrasich of the Western Institute for the Study of the Environment, spotted owl populations have declined an estimated 40 percent over the last 25 years. "The plan to save the owls has saved nothing: not owls, not old growth [forest], not the economy," writes Dubrasich in the Winter edition of Range Magazine.

According to Dubrasich, the result of the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan has been a ten-fold increase in historic levels of biomass (fuels). And as a direct result wildfires have raged repeatedly, from unkempt, unmanaged fuel laden federal land to private land and even to cities and towns wreaking tens of billions of dollars in damage every year across the west.

We here in North Central Washington have witnessed the inferno and experienced the harm to our local tourism, timber and agricultural economy.

Growing up in the west I have experienced both extremes of failed Forest Service Policy. The old policy of suppressing every fire as quickly as possible resulted in overgrown forests full of deadfall and diseased trees that caused further deterioration. The new policy of "let it burn" results in fires that consume everything in their path, fill the air with toxic smoke, and once ignited burn until the first snowfall finally snuffs them out. Many healthy trees are damaged beyond their ability to recover and the cycle of decline escalates with each succeeding conflagration.

There is no doubt that fire is a tool of forest management, but it is only a tool. What is sorely needed is a truly enlightened policy of aggressive forest management that selectively removes diseased and damaged trees. Much of this fuel could be removed and converted to valuable building materials or bio-fuel for producing energy.

While living in Europe I had the opportunity to experience the beauty of the ancient but well managed forests of Germany, Italy and Switzerland. Forests are after all a living, growing crop. Trees may take years to mature but some will die at an early age through disease or other natural disasters like windstorms.

The 2.5 million acre Kootenai National Forest of Western Montana grows 492 million board feet of wood every year while 300 million board feet die due to wind damage, insects and disease. Local logger Bruce Vincent points out that managing that forest through professional litigants instead of professional managers is creating a disastrous backlog of fuel that will one day allow America to enjoy a summer show of natural management that will be anything but benign.

And in the meantime, small towns across the west are losing productive family wage jobs in the timber industry. Rural cities, homes and farms are increasingly at risk while the Forest Service policy of "controlled burning" has become an oxymoron.

Once again we see that environmentalism is not concerned about the conservation and protection of our natural environment. Those who practice modern environmentalism have no practical understanding of nature or science.

As was pointed out in the Range Magazine article, Federal biologists are beginning to recognize that the decline of the Northern Spotted Owl is not so much due to loss of habitat but to an increase in other predators. As a result, the FWS is considering having federal biologists hunt and kill the barred owl in an effort to reduce further declines in NSO populations.

In the meantime, loggers remain unemployed and the forests continue to deteriorate.

Get ready for another summer of intense fire activity that wastes valuable timber, pollutes the environment and keeps tourists away.

Bill Forhan can be reached at 509-548-5286 or

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