Communities for Healthy Forests: ‘False Binary’ Fuels the Forest Management Debate

By Lee Paterson

Stacked logs, spruce and fir in the Pacific Northwest.

A recently published article in the News Review regarding forest management, (A balancing act: The forestland management debate, December 2, 2023) provided some excellent insights by professionals regarding forest fire and what can be done on the landscape to prepare for and respond to inevitable wildfire. But so much of the forest management debate, as described by the writer, is built on a false premise that the debate rages between two binary opposites, “environmentalists” and “the industry”. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is much more to the very complex issues within the public discussion about forest management than this short-sighted, simplistic, and false premise would have us believe. 

Foresters and forest managers play integral roles within the environmental community. It is at least misleading to suggest otherwise. Far from being adversaries, these professionals strive to be expert managers of our ecosystems, employing scientific expertise to balance environmental concerns, social benefits, and economic interests through responsible and sustainable resource management.

Foresters are trained to understand forest ecosystems intricately, promoting biodiversity, mitigating wildfires, and preserving habitats to ensure that forests thrive while meeting human needs.

These professionals actively contribute to the fight against climate change, understanding that while forests sequester carbon dioxide by managing that stored carbon, forest managers contribute to carbon offsets. 

However, it is critically important to understand that “carbon sequestration” is a term that only refers to the process of gathering atmospheric carbon. The forest holds that carbon only temporarily. Professional foresters understand that when the forest burns or dies from other causes, that stored carbon begins to dissipate into the atmosphere, further contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and exacerbating global warming. But when we harvest and process that carbon-rich wood, we lock it up and prevent its escape for generations into the future. 

Collaboration between foresters, forest managers, and the community at-large is essential. Together, we can develop comprehensive strategies that balance economic interests with ecological preservation. Recognizing the symbiotic relationship between all stakeholders fosters a more holistic approach to environmental conservation, dispelling the myth that foresters are not crucial members of the environmental community.

The next time someone suggests that “the environmental community” believes this or that, recognize that it is a political tactic intended to divide us. Don’t let anyone co-opt these terms. There is no “environmental community” pitted against some other “imaginary community”. We’re all in this together. 

Retired Roseburg School District Superintendent Lee Paterson is a 55-year Douglas County resident, former President of Communities for Healthy Forests, descendant of Oregon Trail pioneer families, and community volunteer for a number of non-profit boards and community-building organizations.