Thinning the powder kegs of the West

From The Westerner Blog

Lightning started a forest fire one August afternoon near this Oregon tourist town, and it was spreading fast. Residents in outlying areas evacuated as flames marched toward their homes.

Just a few months earlier, the U.S. Forest Service and a group of locals representing environmental, logging and recreational interests arranged to thin part of the overgrown forest, creating a buffer zone around Sisters. Workers removed trees and brush with machines, then came through on foot to ignite prescribed burns.

That effort saved homes, and perhaps the community of 2,500 on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range, by slowing the fire’s progress and allowing firefighters to corral it. Scrutiny of the condition of the American West’s forests, and of policies that curtailed logging and suppressed wildfires, has intensified amid a devastating wildfire season that has burned a combined area bigger than Maryland and caused widespread destruction in California’s wine country.

Until the advent of aggressive fire suppression at the turn of the last century, forests were historically shaped by low-intensity blazes, with the flames clearing underbrush but not killing tall trees.

Forests across the West are now so overgrown they’ve been called powder kegs. The work by the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project in Central Oregon, where towns and subdivisions sit in a green ocean of ponderosa and lodgepole pine trees, shows the potential of forest thinning. And it shows how loggers and environmentalists — normally bitter enemies — can join forces. But it also highlights the challenges of replicating the forest thinning across the West, where the obstacles include a lack of timber workers and money…

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The National Forest Service bureaucrats should be the ones to blame for mismanaging the nation’s forests. – Ed.



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