and Tim Ballard
How can you tell that Oregon's "war in the woods" is still going on? Well, one way is to notice that most articles about forest-management controversies, even after decades, still read pretty much the same. Over and over, we read, "We're right and they're wrong." Writers' unchanging "trigger" words rally supporters and antagonize opponents. The words tell us the "war" continues.
Mail Tribune readers saw two recent guest editorials about a project proposed for Forest Service lands near Crater Lake National Park.
"Bybee timber sale will improve forest health," by Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest Supervisor Rob MacWhorter, was published in the Mail Tribune on March 10 and "The Bybee timber sale: wrong place, wrong plan," by Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Conservation Director George Sexton was published March 15.
The titles alone show the polarity of views. And words in the articles signal continuing gridlock over fire and fuels management there. Like gridlock on a freeway, the people in this dispute are holding in traffic and not making much forward progress.
What does the forest look like? Umpqua Forestry Coalition members visited the Bybee site recently. They found that forest conditions in much of the planning area are as the Forest Service described. Most or all of proposed activity areas have been logged and roaded. Dense in many places, the forest has missed the natural thinning effect of forest fires. Umpqua Forestry Coalition members think the dense forest is susceptible to forest health problems and extreme fire behavior if it burns.
So what's the fuss about? The opinion writers disagree whether management will actually improve forest conditions, particularly around wildfires.
According to the Forest Service opinion, "The Bybee project will selectively remove trees in order to achieve forest health objectives ... failing to take action to reduce these crowded conditions could lead to further disease, tree mortality and catastrophic wildfire." The Forest Service's Environmental Assessment for Bybee states, "There is a need to thin stands and treat diseased conditions to improve tree growth and to provide for fire, insect and disease resistance."
But, according to KS Wild, "... aggressive logging and road construction in these headwater ancient forests are activities that harm, rather than help, forest health ... The 'forest health' arguments for logging ancient forests is a smokescreen that does a disservice to the firefighters who are put in harm's way every summer."
The writers also continue a long-standing debate over the cutting of large trees.
KS Wild states that "Ancient Douglas firs ... would be logged to convert even more of the landscape into dense young fiber plantations ... when wildfire occurs, dense young plantations tend to burn with stand-replacing intensity while old-growth forests ... have more moderate fire behavior."
While the Forest Service documents say they wouldn't be cutting old-growth, they do propose to cut some large trees and to thin some stands over 200 years old. They do not propose to create "young fiber plantations" as KS Wild states.
Is there something else going on? Well, according to various conservation-group websites, active management in the Bybee area might compromise proposals for a new wilderness area called the Crater Lake Wilderness. So, although the KS Wild opinion raises some legitimate concerns about management effects within Bybee, their objections also seem to have another purpose: backing a wilderness designation for a roaded area some distance from the park.
Is there something wrong about these cross purposes leading to cross words? Yes, there is. Cross purposes and words get in the way of finding good choices for reducing fuels and improving forest resiliency. Mixed agendas, misleading rhetoric, a confused public and little or no communication among word warriors are making progress slow or impossible. And while the word warriors fiddle with phrases, the forest faces catastrophe from fire.
Aren't you tired of all that "stuff"? Don't you wish, as we do, that we could break through the barricades of words and have a real discussion at a community level, even get real resolution?
Breaking away from this pattern of gridlock will require picking an approach to improve forest health and fire resiliency based on broad-based public support, as well as advancing well-crafted proposals for new wilderness areas. That path requires us to rebuild trust and improve communications among the warriors.
What do you think? Your comments are always welcome at email@example.com. UFC works to end environmental gridlock.
Jim Caplan is a retired supervisor of the Umpqua National Forest. Don Morrison is a retired silviculturist for the U.S. Forest Service. Tim Ballard is a retired firefighter from the Vista Fire Department in Southern California. All three are members of the Umpqua Forestry Coalition.