Healthy, managed forests reduce wildfire risk

Who cares about the health of our Oregon forests? As I sit here in smoke and hear horror stories about what is burning now (my favorite Wild and Scenic Rogue River stretch), I am wondering if anyone really cares that we can't reduce fire danger in our forests and create healthy watersheds and preserve our clean air.

We in the United States are considered a world power and yet we can't even figure out how to manage a stand of trees on federal lands so we don't have catastrophic events. Moreover, after the forests burn we do nothing, I mean nothing, to restore healthy watersheds, take out dead trees and restore streams. The forested area turns into brush fields ready in a few years for another lightning strike and a reburn.

We have been rendered powerless by a group of antis who for the most part have studied law, not forestry, and use the law to stop all actions for whatever reason.

The reason can't be to promote healthy forests, because we all know the forests are in the worst shape they've been in for years. The forests have been managed for thousands of years, so the concept of a "natural" forest is as natural as a Disneyland forest. It is a concept in the mind that does not deal with the dynamic reality of the ever-changing forests.

So, experts in forestry, who know how to grow trees (I always like live trees in the forests where I recreate), are not the ones driving the forest policies, whether it is pre-burn or after-burn. Actually, it isn't even water experts, who know thick vegetation around streams does something called "transpiration", which means trees and vegetation drink the water and it then evaporates, making less water in the streams.

Foresters and water experts know how to get the maximum benefit from trees, water and vegetation. Yet, here we are in another fire season that appears to be similar to 2002. We didn't learn from the 500,000-acre Biscuit fire, because we didn't restore landscapes and we didn't reduce fuels in order to reduce catastrophic fire conditions, and now part of it is reburning.

The lawyers and activists who claim to care about the forests are the ones defeating the very policies that help create healthy forests. I can't find policymakers or environmental activists who care enough to move from stubborn positions and really find workable solutions so we don't have catastrophic events.

By the way, workable solutions mean reasonable management, which results in healthier watersheds (as demonstrated by the Big Butte Springs watershed, which was logged successfully) and fewer fire risks. Fewer fire risks mean cleaner air.

Combustion in fire events gives off one-fourth of the pollution, but three-fourths of detrimental emissions — such as carbons and nitrous oxides — are emitted after the event if the burned wood is left to decay and give off greenhouse gases for the next 50 to 100 years, according to research done by Dr. Thomas Bonnicksen.

Reasonable management produces jobs and helps support our local schools and government. Unlike the beliefs of some activists, increasing property taxes in counties where most of the land is owned by the federal government won't work. That is not dealing with reality.

So I would now like to know who cares about the health of our forests before and after the fires. Step up, Sen. Ron Wyden, and let's get to work and find out.

Sue Kupillas, a former Jackson County commissioner, is executive director of Communities for Healthy Forests Inc.

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