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Obstruction, litigation contribute to forest gridlock

For the past three decades, anti-forestry groups have enjoyed a stranglehold over the management of public lands at the expense of our environment and economy. George Sexton’s Dec. 15 guest opinion is another example of the frenetic attacks commonly used to confuse the public and bully our public lands managers, all in pursuit of a narrow agenda of obstruction and litigation that prevents important forest work from being done.

The work that needs to be done includes managing our forests to reduce the risks of wildfire, smoke, insects and disease, which have all become growing threats over the past three decades of “forest non-management.” This work includes keeping public lands accessible for recreation and firefighting. It also includes sustainably harvesting timber, which supports family-wage jobs and economic activity, and helps pay for essential services that keep our communities healthy and safe.

It is a common tactic for Sexton and his groups to attack the motivations of timber companies, including the men and women whose livelihoods depend on the planting, growing, harvesting and replanting of a renewable resource. Yet anti-forestry groups have been successful over the past three decades in putting these companies out of business and putting people out of work. Jackson County has few wood products manufacturing facilities left. Josephine County lost its last remaining sawmill because it couldn’t obtain wood.

We now have three decades to judge the results of forest non-management. Many of our communities are not more prosperous, as they continue to have higher rates of poverty and unemployment. Our forests are not healthier or more resilient, as many landscapes have become unnaturally dense tinderboxes. Our public lands are not more accessible, as more forest roads are closed. Our air is not any cleaner, as we breathe the toxic smoke from catastrophic wildfires.

It is highly disingenuous for Sexton to talk about “a better way” when his group and others use obstruction and litigation to stop forest management projects that are carefully developed by the Bureau of Land Management in consultation with wildlife managers. Recently, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center joined other groups in suing to stop the BLM’s North Landscape Project that includes both commercial and noncommercial activities that provide a balance of environmental and economic benefits.

By suing to stop these projects, they are saying “no” to keeping our forests green by thinning overstocked stands; saying “no” to reducing wildfire risks that destroy wildlife habitat; and saying “no” to increasing tree species diversity and creating more openings to encourage the growth of larger trees. They are also saying “no” to sustainable timber management, employment and public services that the management of these forests can provide. Sexton’s image of “regenerated tree farms” is, to put it generously, pure fantasy.

If there is a “better way,” it is not to bully, obstruct and litigate. Rather, it is to allow federal land managers to apply modern science to the landscape, give agencies the resources, policy tools and flexibility to manage our public lands according to the law, and utilize the latest technology to sustainably utilize a renewable resource to create locally-grown and locally-manufactured products. This is not possible as long as a handful of anti-forestry groups are able to block forest work to further their own interests at the expense of everyone else.

Nick Smith is executive director of Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities, a nonprofit grassroots coalition advocating for active forest management on federally owned forest lands.