A Century of Wrong Federal Forest Policy

I live in Klamath Falls, Oregon which is a wonderful community. Klamath Falls is in southern Oregon just 20 miles North of the California border. Klamath County has large private and public forests, many large cattle ranches, and beautiful marshes and lakes, which attract thousands of migratory birds throughout the year.

When I started writing this blog, I was looking at the mountains that surround the magnificent Crater Lake. Now eight days later, I have not seen the mountains surrounding Crater Lake and have quit taking my morning walk. There are fires all around Klamath Falls. Fires that have been reoccurring for the last few summers. Most disturbing is that a very high percentage of these fires should have been prevented.

Two years ago, then California Governor Jerry Brown said the fires were a “new normal” because of global warming. This claim was refuted by University of Washington climate scientist Cliff Mass, who told the Daily Caller, “Global warming may contribute slightly, but the key factors are mismanaged forests, years of fire suppression, increased population, people living where they should not, invasive flammable species, and the fact that California has always had fire.”

This post will focus on the history of forest fires, mismanagement, and suppression and how that impacted the people and industries living near the forests’ fires.

California has Always had Fires

As Professor Mass stated, California has throughout history had naturally caused fires. Scientists estimate that before Europeans arrived, 4.4 million acres of California burned annually, which is 16 times larger than the amount that burned in 2019.

California has two separate fire problems. There are the coastal scrub brush fires that include the notorious Santa Ana fires spread by devastating winds. The Sierra Nevada fires are the high-altitude pine forests that are now burning in California and Oregon mountains.

Mismanaging the Forest

The mismanagement occurred from decisions made during President Clinton’s administration. A combination of listing the Northern Spotted Owl on the endangered specifies list and strong pressure for saving old growth timber by numerous environmental organizations reduced the timber harvest substantially. Worse, it also greatly reduced active management of the forest – thinning, prescribed burns and clearing underbrush. As a comparison, the amount of timber harvested from Forest Service land from 1960 until 1990 was an average of 10 million feet each year. Between 1991 and 2000 the harvest was purposely reduced. From 2000 to 2013 the decline was a precipitous – 80 percent.

Two years ago, in The Daily Caller interview, Bob Zybach, an experienced forester with a Ph.D. in environmental science, described the Forest Service practices up to 1990, “Mostly fuels were removed through logging, active management — which they stopped — and grazing. You take away logging, grazing and maintenance, and you get firebombs.”

While bad fires still happen on state and private lands, most of the massive blazes happen on or around lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and other federal agencies, Zybach said. Poor management has turned western forests into “slow-motion time bombs.”

Years of Fire Suppression

For over a century in the West, the general procedure was to stop a forest fire as quickly as possible. “We have put out fires for 100 years. Now we are paying the price,” said Scott Stephens, a professor of fire science at UC Berkeley. “It will take a while to make these forests healthy again. But it’s absolutely possible.” Stephen noted that the Sierra mountains typically had about 40 trees per acre in the early 1800s. Now they have 400 or more, creating heavy brush and thick forests, which explode when ignited.

Incompetent Federal Government

The federal government has created dangerous and deadly fires. A century of wrong policies and mismanagement has caused enormous economic damage to hundreds of small lumber producing towns. It has also harmed America by denying the beneficial use of the timber.

Now, former Governor Jerry Brown and many environmentalists are attempting to connect the fires to climate change, which will greatly exacerbate the government made fire disaster which plagues much of the American West.

Solution: Sell Most of the Government Lands

Unfortunately, after a century of incompetent policy and mismanagement, mostly caused by the contradictory demands of environmentalists, it is difficult to believe the federal government will properly pass beneficial legislation that will substantially increase logging, properly thin forests and wisely activate prescribed burns. Therefore, I proffer to sell much of the forest lands for two reasons. First, those of us living in the timber communities of the rural West know which lands are owned by private citizens and which are owned by the Forest Service. Private owners manage and protect their assets by harvesting, thinning and prescribed burns. Second, the federal government with enormous and dangerous debt augmented by the pandemic and lockdowns needs the revenue.

Selling government-owned forests is a win-win. I will gladly assist any organization that wants to promote selling government forests.