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Bush plan will help forests, state.

Byline: AARON JONES For The Register-Guard

MANAGE THE FORESTS or watch them burn. It's that simple.

Over the last 100 years, aggressive fire management of our public forests has led to unhealthy forest conditions, including too many trees per acre, insect damage and rot. These conditions, combined with the legal sabotage of our forests by radical environmental groups, have resulted in the disastrous fire seasons of 2000, and now 2002.

Instead of standing by with our hands in our pockets, it is time to act. That is exactly what the Healthy Forests Initiative proposed by President Bush will do.

Ten years ago, the Northwest Forest Plan was adopted by then-President Clinton. The plan was supposed to stop the endless court injunctions brought by environmentalists that had brought forest management to a halt. Its method was compromise - providing protection for vast expanses of habitat, while providing a greatly diminished, but predictable, output of timber.

But the goals of the plan have not been met. Despite the compromise, lawsuits by these same radical environmental groups have continued. Timber output in 2001 was approximately one-tenth of what was promised by then-President Clinton, and we have now lost millions of acres of habitat to fire.

Current forest management is characterized by a lengthy administrative process and constant litigation. Timber sales to reduce fire fuel loadings often take two to four years to prepare and complete. Since the start of 2001, 48 percent of all Forest Service projects to reduce fire fuels have been appealed or litigated. Environmental groups have appealed most, if not all, fuel-reduction projects in the West, and timber sales to restore our forests after a fire have almost completely been ground to a halt.

These tactics have led to catastrophic fires, destruction of habitat for endangered species and loss of vast amounts of timber. The Healthy Forest Initiative aims to remedy this system failure by limiting the bureaucratic red tape and needless appeals and lawsuits.

Radical environmentalists have been quick to criticize the president. What is their solution? Let it burn! Under current forest conditions, this ideology will lead to the continued destruction of millions of acres of forest. The very habitat that they say they are trying to protect will be nothing more than smoke and ash.

If we stand back and "let it burn," the intensity of the fires will be catastrophic - at current unnatural fuel levels, fires burn much hotter, destroying everything in their path. In contrast, the president's Healthy Forests Initiative seeks to actively thin these stands, removing the high fire-fuel loads that lead to catastrophic fires.

The president's initiative is a responsible plan that advocates stewardship and economic stability. Public forests will be hardened from fire, species will prosper, and a predictable level of timber will come off of our forests. Many rural areas of Oregon that were once dependent on federal timber have been left by the wayside. They suffer from high poverty rates and joblessness. The president's initiative will help these communities by providing stability and a healthy, safe environment.

Environmental groups believe that we cannot enjoy the benefits of both a healthy forest and a timber program. This closed-minded picture fails to realize the potential, and the current plight of our national forests. We often hear catchwords like "stewardship" and "sustainability." If we could achieve the ideas embodied in these terms, our forests and wildlife would last in perpetuity. Sustainability is often described as the balance between social, environmental and economic needs. Current public forest management does not promote any of these ideals.

In 2001, 137 million board feet of timber was harvested from Northwest federal forests. The Northwest Forest Plan promised 1.1 billion board feet. When you contrast these numbers with the more than 12 billion board feet grown annually on these forests, it is obvious that we are not managing our forests on a sustainable basis. Additionally, 1.8 billion board feet of timber is dying every year. This is not sustainable because, at the current rate of fuel buildup and inaction, catastrophic fires will continue to burn. This means that social opportunities will be lost, protected habitat will disappear and economics will not improve.

It is interesting to note that private forests are not on fire. Why not? Because private forest owners manage their forests by reducing fire-fuel loadings, and, in the event of fire, they immediately begin the process of restoring the forest.

In contrast, our public forests are becoming the slums of the West.

In fact, in some areas, private landowners are cutting buffer strips around their forests to protect them from the public forests next door.

The Healthy Forests Initiative is a strong plan that seeks the right goal. The Bush administration is prepared to work with Congress to formulate a plan that will expedite the dire needs of Northwest forests. These forests need protection and management. Instead of criticizing the president, we should applaud him for taking a stand to protect Oregon, its people and its environment.

Aaron Jones of Eugene is the founder of Seneca Sawmill Company.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Sep 5, 2002
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