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Could Bill in Congress Harm Oregon Forests?

Conservation groups say a bill that just passed the U.S. House puts Oregon's old-growth forests at risk. (Bureau of Land Management/Flickr)
Conservation groups say a bill that just passed the U.S. House puts Oregon's old-growth forests at risk. (Bureau of Land Management/Flickr)
November 3, 2017

PORTLAND, Ore - Passed by the U.S. House and moving on to the Senate, the Resilient Federal Forests Act is aimed at protecting forests from fires. But conservation groups in Idaho and across the country say it undermines the most meaningful efforts to do just that.

Among their many concerns is the threat the bill poses to environmental laws, including greatly-reduced public input on timber projects that cover up to 30,000 acres.

Joseph Vaile, who heads the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, says it's especially bad news for Oregon's old-growth forests, rolling back protections on centuries-old trees that have survived fire after fire.

"It would cut down the biggest, most fire-resistant trees in the forest and replace them with logging flash and brush, which is going to be more flammable and is going to make our communities more at risk of fire," he explains.

Vaile says it's more effective to provide the U.S. Forest Service with the funds for projects to reduce fuel loads and maintain forests. Under the current model, the agency must pull money from those projects to fight wildfires. Oregon Congressmen Kurt Schrader and Greg Walden voted for the bill.

Megan Birzell, the national forest campaign manager with The Wilderness Society, says the way forward is to provide more resources to collaborative efforts already underway in the West, instead of simply favoring logging. She also says the fight should center on threats to life and property.

"We really need to be focusing in and around communities when we think about how we are going to do treatments to help protect them from future fires," she says. "Fire plays a natural role in the landscape, and we want fire to play its natural role in the landscape. Part of the reason that we're in the mess that we're in today is because we've suppressed fire for so long."

Birzell adds the Forest Service needs the resources to manage forests, especially as climate change drives more fires and drains more funds from the agency's budget. In September, the Forest Service said firefighting would likely cost two-thirds of its budget by 2021.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR