A pair of reports released earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture adds urgency to calls by Oregon’s political leaders to step up the pace and scale of forest restoration. View the U.S. Forest Service summary here.
Based on a compilation of more than 1,000 studies on climate change, the department foresees a potential doubling of the area burned by wildfires over the next 25 years. Moreover, the reports warn that insect infestations could produce more damage than fires.
It’s an ominous but predictable warning.
Even if climate stayed constant, the American West would still face the prospect of more wildfires and insect outbreaks. That’s because a century of fire suppression, as well as a lack of active forest management on federal land the past two decades, has created millions of acres of unnaturally dense forest stands at risk of uncharacteristically severe wildfire.
OFRI knows this subject well. Our 2010 report, Federal Forestland in Oregon – Coming to Terms with Active Forest Management of Federal Forestland documented the establishment of national forests in Oregon, described the events that led to their current state, and identified the severe fire risk facing the more than 11 million acres of dry national forests east of the Cascades and in the southern interior.
In 2012, OFRI collaborated with statewide partners to publish a new study, National Forest Health Restoration: An Economic Assessment of Forest Restoration on Oregon’s Eastside National Forests. That report answers the question posed by Gov. John Kitzhaber and legislative leaders: “If Oregon were to double the average number of acres treated annually to benefit and restore forest ecosystem health on Oregon’s dry-side national forestlands, then what would that cost and what would be the economic benefit?”
The answer? Every $1 million spent on restoration will generate $5.7 million in economic returns. Plus we can potentially avoid the fires predicted by the Department of Agriculture report, protecting our precious clean air and water, and stopping the sacrifice of wildlife.
Rep. Greg Walden, whose district covers eastern Oregon, stated in OFRI’s 2010 report, “… You don’t solve a problem by ignoring it. Federal forest health has been ignored long enough by government policy for us to take stock of the results: staggering unemployment in rural Oregon, catastrophic wildfire, massive bug kill and threatened habitat and watersheds.”
Solving the federal forest crisis may require help from the state. The governor’s budget proposes $4 million of lottery-backed bond proceeds to fund the implementation of forest collaborative projects to restore forest health and increase timber supply to mills in central and eastern Oregon. It’s a proposal that deserves serious discussion, especially in light of this new Department of Agriculture report on climate change.
In a companion summary to the 2012 national forest health restoration assessment, Gov. Kitzhaber had this to say: “Doubling restoration activities can have a positive, lasting impact on the health of dry-side forests and rural communities. Now is the time to act.”
For the forest,