I saw Senator Ron Wyden’s most recent political ad on television regarding the forest fires in Oregon. I was encouraged to find that he supports increasing efforts to reduce the unhealthy fuel loads on our Federal Forest lands through thinning projects and the use of prescribed burning. I also support his efforts to increase funding for more equipment to aid firefighters in their effort to control and suppress fires on our Federal Forest lands. I understand and appreciate Senator Wyden’s initiatives. In fact, I find them very encouraging.
But here are things I don’t understand, and which I would urge Senator Wyden to consider. Why are our Federal Land management Agencies leaving hundreds of thousands of acres of dead and dying trees killed by 2020 Labor Day fires unmanaged? Those dead trees are a magnet for insect infestation, and are also vulnerable to burn again which, of course, will kill the adjacent trees and vegetation. Why do we tolerate such waste? When did we abandon the concepts of “reduce, reuse and recycle” for a healthy planet?
I am a former educator, School District Superintendent, and patriotic Viet Nam combat veteran. I am keenly aware of the financial challenges that our schools, on all levels, are facing as they deal with teacher shortages, crumbling school infrastructure, increased security concerns, and the cost of transportation, just to name a few. As a veteran, I am very sensitive to the housing, education, employment, and adequate health care needs of Oregon’s Veterans.
Conservative estimates indicate that over 400,000 acres of US Forest Service and BLM lands burned in the Labor Day fires, with a timber value of over $4 billion. Harvesting just half of the dead trees on those acres in a timely and responsible manner could have generated $2 billion. This is money that would help our schools and veterans, as well as offset the costs of the projects Senator Wyden is proposing. Why is the Federal Government allowing this incredible waste of the public’s resource?
I am a responsible environmentalist, as I believe are most Oregonians. And like everyone else, I have witnessed the impacts of global warming and the changing climate. It cannot be denied that this warming trend has diminished the health and natural fire resiliency of our Federal Forests, making them ever more vulnerable to catastrophic forest fire and disease.
Senator Wyden’s support of pre-fire management is certainly a step in the right direction. But without equal attention given to post-fire management, Oregon’s legacy of beautiful, forest landscapes will evolve into forestland deserts covered by brush and dead, grey ghost trees. In fact, a short trip up the Santiam Canyon or the North Umpqua river will provide a glimpse into that dark future already becoming a reality.
So, as I support Senator Wyden’s initiative, I only ask that he do everything possible to stop the waste and remember our obligation, as good stewards of the land, to “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle”.
It’s the responsible thing to do.
Lee Paterson served with the 101st Airborne Infantry in Vietnam, served the public schools for over 30 years, retired as Roseburg School District Superintendent, has helped found and led many community organizations, and has resided in Douglas County for over 50 years.
The figures included in this editorial are taken from a report commissioned by the Oregon Forest Resource Institute and conducted by the forest consulting firm of Mason, Bruce, & Girard.