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Merkley forest management plan has merit

Oregon voters should feel pretty good about U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley’s ideas on forest management, concepts he discussed last week.

Merkley wants to push the Biden administration to spend at least $1 billion per year for logging, prescribed burns and other work to get the tinderbox forests of the state in shape to withstand disease and uncontrolled blazes.

“Management” is the key word Merkley used, and we hope that is exactly what happens. Forest management is not closure of forests. It does not mean blockading vast tracts of forestland to watch it die and then become kindling for another massive fire.

Instead, Merkley seems to back a cooperative concept where traditional rivals — such as the timber industry and conservation groups — work together to help forests.

Merkley correctly pointed out that in the 2018 federal farm bill he included authorization to double spending on forest collaborative projects. That is just not idle talk. That is putting hard cash behind a concept that is probably the only way we can move forward in the future.

Merkley’s next challenge will be to get the money into the Forest Service budget.

Meanwhile, Merkley’s focus on cooperative projects has great merit. It seems obvious even to the most pessimistic observer of the forest situation in the Northwest that the only way forward will be through collaboration. That isn’t going to be an easy sell for either environmental or timber advocates, but it is the way to the future.

For a special interest group — such as the timber industry or an environmentalist group — to believe it can have it all one way simply is not a viable solution. In fact, it is a roadblock that pushes important matters, such as the health of our forests, away and puts the focus on egos.

The cooperative model is one that will be, we think, utilized on rangeland as well.

For too long there was a “winner-takes-all” mentality regarding natural resources issues. On one side stood the timber advocates, on the other countless environmental groups. Both sides believed they were right, and both could conjure up data and rhetoric to make it all seem real.

Fact is, none of that matters when the broader problem of forest and range management is placed firmly into focus. What matters is finding compromise and solutions. Fighting over dogma is not going to get us to where we want to be in terms of forest health. Good, sound planning will.