Kate Brown: Saving Our Forests?

Last week I awoke, fixed my coffee and sat down to review the news of the day. I had barely started when I felt what I assumed to be a cosmic shift and looked down to see an article about Governor Kate Brown (D-OR) and the devastation of the still burning Bootleg fire on Oregon’s border with California. The fire is massive – it encompasses 640 square miles – and deserves the attention that it is getting. But it wasn’t the fire that portended the cosmic shift; it was the comments of Ms. Brown. Let me quote directly from the July 26, 2021, report by Portland’s KXL TV:

“Oregon Governor Kate Brown, on CNN, said she feels for everyone who’s been a victim of the 640 square mile wildfire. ‘Obviously I’m very concerned that these very high heat temperatures will continue. I have to say a shoutout to the over 2,000 firefighters who are fighting this horrific fire. We really appreciate their dedication and determination,’ said Brown.

“She says Oregon needs to be more proactive in preventing wildfires. ‘It’s incredibly important with climate change that we get into these forests and start doing the thinning and harvest and prescriptive burning, so we can create healthier landscapes, landscapes that are more resilient to wildfire.’”

And right there is the cosmic shift. For over three decades Oregon’s liberal/progressive/socialists have been fighting and succeeding in stopping the various common sense activities detailed by Ms. Brown. Since at least 2005, I have been writing about the destructive interference of the environmental lobby and their allies in the Democrat Party. But let’s put this in context.

The Washington Forest Protection Association notes:

“Fire is a natural and beneficial part of a healthy ecosystem. Catastrophic wildfires, on the other hand, can endanger fish and wildlife species, compromise air quality, and threaten the safety of Washington’s communities. While only one percent of wildfires become catastrophic, these forest fires are responsible for more than 90% of the total acreage burned. The greatest threat of catastrophic wildfire today is in U.S. National Forests, where years of fire suppression practices in the 20th century has allowed our federally-owned forests to reach dangerous fuel load levels. Because fire ignores ownership boundaries, private forest landowners across the state are collaborating with the local, state, and federal governments to develop programs for increased funding for fire fighting and prevention, as well as to research and adopt best fire management practices.”

It goes on to described best practices to mitigate against forest fires:

Scientific research shows that proactively managing forests can restore ecosystem health and improve habitat quality by using a variety of fire management tools. Selective harvesting, thinning treatments, brush removal, and pruning are practices used by foresters to thin out forests crowded with too many trees, branches, and undergrowth. In areas with an over-accumulation of fuels, a combination of thinning small trees and clearing brush followed by controlled burning can be the most effective method to reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire. “Prescribed fires” are managed fires used to intentionally clear out heavy vegetation under trees, prepare new seed beds, and dispose of excess wood debris on the forest floor. All of these active fire management tools can make forest fires more manageable and reduce smoke emissions during burning.

There is a difference between scientific facts and scientists talking – both in the mitigation of forest fires and the repair of the forests after a fire.

For years the environmental extremists have relied on the views of scientists such as Robert Beschta who advocated prohibiting salvage logging. Beschta claims it promotes erosion by removing large trees that were the “building blocks” of natural recovery. Note that I refer to these as “views” because, as it turns out, there is little scientific fact to back up these conclusions. In essence, they are just the musings of a group of environmental activists who happen to hold various sciences degrees (Truly, this is an instance where the Ph.D. really did stand for “piled, higher and deeper.) Subsequent, real scientific studies, such as one performed in 2003 by Prof. John Sessions and his colleagues at Oregon State University, have substantially debunked the musing of the so-called Beschta Report.

Here are some pertinent facts found by Prof. Sessions and his colleagues with regard to the Biscuit Fire:

 Removal of dead and dying trees accompanied by reforestation provides the best opportunity to reduce risk of recurring large-scale fires and reduce shrub enrichment.
 Riparian habitat (erosion control) and habitat suitable for old growth dependent wildlife will benefit from immediate action to remove and rehabilitate the area.
 Fire risks and insect infestation will increase without intervention.
 The economic value of the dead and dying timber will deteriorate rapidly over a short period of time.
 Aggressive reforestation will accelerate the return of large conifers by 50 years.
 The impact of carefully administered salvage logging on soil erosion is small and temporary.
 Recovery of dead and dying trees can provide 8-10 jobs per million board feet recovered. (If only half of the dead and dying salvageable trees from the Biscuit fire were recovered (1.25 billion board feet) it would provide over 10,000 man/years of employment.)

We didn’t really need science to tell us what is right and reasonable. It doesn’t take a scientist to know that a forest, crowded with the dead and dying trees, heaped up with downed trees and overgrown with brush, is at far greater risk of a catastrophic wildfire one that is groomed with healthier and well spaced trees and removal of underbrush. Similarly, it doesn’t take a scientist to see that a burned forest will recover more quickly if the damage is removed and new trees are planted. It doesn’t take a scientist to recognize that other large scale fires in Oregon left to “nature’s way” remain charred, blackened ground interspersed with low lying scrub brush for decades. It doesn’t take a scientist to know that while nature may recover an area to its pre-existing condition it won’t be in our life times or probably the life times of our children. And it doesn’t take a scientist to recognize that a small group of self-centered environmental extremists, funded by out-of-state money, can tie recovery up in court until it is no longer worth it, leaving good jobs rotting just like the dead, dying trees. But it is comforting to know that real science supports common sense.

But back to Ms. Brown. It is Ms. Brown’s party, particularly the liberal/progressive/socialist wing of it that has championed the closing of our forests to any form of logging. It is Ms. Brown’s party that has supported the laws and administrative rulings that have enjoined logging both before and after forest fires. It is Ms. Brown’s party that has wept crocodile tears for Bambi, and Hooter and whatever we might call the trash fish in our rivers to delay, deter and deny the harvesting of timber even when accompanied by the best practices for grooming the forests and replanting of trees. Quite frankly I don’t remember a single time during the last fifteen years when Ms. Brown has ever criticized the environmental lobby for their NIMBY attitudes or even issued a call for responsible forest management practices as she did last week. Ms. Brown has a long history of telling people what she thinks they want to hear and then doing exactly want she wants anyway. But it is well passed time for aggressive management of our forests by professionals (not politicians or bureaucrats) and so, for now we should give Ms. Brown the benefit of the doubt. But in the immortal words of President Ronald Reagan: “Trust but verify.”

Oregon is watching.