The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Doc Hastings (WA), just approved legislation (H.R. 1526) that re-institutes the Federal government’s commitment to actively manage our forests for sustainable and environmentally responsible timber harvests. Kudos to Congressmen Walden and Schrader (OR) for their leadership on this issue and to Congressman DeFazio (OR) for his bipartisan efforts to generate revenue and timber for the O&C Lands rural communities. H.B. 1526 is being touted as a “first step” towards restoring the health of our federal forests and rural communities. It better be a “first step” and not just a “baby step.” We’ve waited long enough for the Feds to step up and manage our public lands for the economic benefit of our country, all possible in a sustainable and sound environmental way. The Administration needs to give the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) moral and monetary support so they show some backbone and walk the talk of sound forest management with prescribed fire and pest prevention.

Our federal forests are in crisis mode. As our Federal forest land becomes more overstocked and fuel loaded, the rate and danger of insect infestation and wildfires grows. Today 40% of Oregon’s forest land has been designated as high-risk for catastrophic fire and as other large parts of the western U.S. are suffering from drier warmer climates, they too are becoming prone to common and widespread wildfires. Last year, 9.3 million acres of federal land burned due to forest fires, the third worst fire season on record for acres burned. In the same year, only 200,000 acres were harvested by the U.S. Forest Service: 44 times as many acres burned as were responsibly harvested and restored. In the early 90s, the USFS spent 15% of its budget on fire management, today that figure is in excess of 50%.

Yes, I am concerned about improving forest health and the economic contribution that a managed forest can make to our state. But I am not overlooking the incredible and increasing danger and destruction that forest fires, any fires, bring to a community. I don’t need to be reminded about 19 young people who lost their lives recently fighting a forest fire to see clearly that fire is to be feared, respected, and prevented.

H.R. 1526 has a ways to go to become law. One way to keep up this momentum is to contact the appropriate Congressional delegate and express your support. Once the House passes a bill, we all need to expect action from Senator Wyden (OR), as Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, to pass a corresponding bill in the Senate. Joining the grassroots group Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities now provides you with easy access to updates, Congressional contacts, and action plans for using our voices to promote restoration of the health of our federal forest lands and our rural communities.

No more smoke’n mirrors, forest health is a bipartisan issue that is affecting all of us.

Steve Zika
CEO, Hampton Lumber