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Log big trees to reduce fire danger

According to the Mail Tribune article on Sunday, Nov. 17, local Democrats Rep. Pam Marsh and Sen. Jeff Golden and Gov. Kate Brown have signaled they’re about to put their money where their mouth is in regard to thinning Oregon forests to prevent future catastrophic forest fires. The problem is, it’s not their money, it’s the taxpayers’ money, and Oregon taxpayers are already paying the third highest income tax nationally. We can thin our forest without further burdening the taxpayers with higher taxes.

Golden cites the Ashland Watershed as an example of forest thinning, having thinned 12,000 acres at a cost exceeding $12 million. When the thinning was completed, it was set on fire to showcase their work, the fire quickly got out of control and scorched the crowns of the trees as was reported twice by the Mail Tribune. Only prepositioned men and equipment got the fire under control.

Due to environmentalist and conservationist pressure, Democratic political leaders refuse to allow any large-diameter trees to be cut down during the thinning process. They are more focused on tree size than tree densities per acre. Oregon forests average more than 600 trees per acre and many areas have 1,200 trees per acre. The watershed needs more trees removed to truly make it fire resistant.

In dense forest, once the fire gets into the crowns of the trees, its much more difficult to put out. Imagine an acre (43,560 square feet) of our forest. With 600 trees on it, it equals 72 square feet per tree, and 36 square feet per tree with 1,200 trees per acre. Either way the forest is too dense to be fire resistant and would end up burning the crowns and everything else in the forest.

The average mature tree exceeds 20 feet in diameter when adequate spacing is provided. Less when packed together. Picture an acre broken into 20- by 20-foot squares with one tree in each square. We would have a park-like setting containing 110 trees per acre and spacing between the crowns that could limit the fire ability to get into the crowns of the trees as the forest fire moves along the ground.

The upside to this method of thinning is that the removal of the excess trees would pay for the cost of the thinning while employing more private-sector jobs (tree fallers, equipment operators, truck drivers, mill workers and other ancillary jobs) that pay taxes to the state as opposed to government and private sector employees costing taxpayers to do an inadequate job in the first place.

I urge all Rogue Valley residents to visit the Ashland Watershed and see for yourself. It looks nice, but much work remains in order to properly protect it and Ashland from catastrophic forest fires. By using the private sector, work could begin quickly as we are not having to go through the budgetary process in the Legislature before work could begin.

Imagine the private sector solving such a serious problem by doing the peoples work at no cost to the taxpayers if only we can get the environmentalists and conservationists to see the forest for the trees.

Gordon Challstrom lives in Medford.