By RT H. NELSON
Late last month the Senate passed a non-binding budget resolution that encourages the selling or transfer of federal lands to state and local governments. With a Republican Congress, the longstanding question over federal management of public lands is resurfacing once again with renewed urgency.
The federal government owns large parts of the forests, deserts and other rural areas of the American West – in total around half of all the land in the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Coast states. Roughly 30% of federal lands are made up of wilderness and national parks, while the rest are used for timber harvesting, grazing, energy leasing and recreation.
This pervasive federal presence is a product of policies championed at the turn of the 20th century.
Throughout the nineteenth century, however, the government aggressively disposed of its land holdings to private landowners and state governments, seeking to advance economic development and the pursuit of “manifest destiny.” It was in the period from 1890 to 1920 that American Progressives successfully argued that these lands would be more expertly managed in federal hands.
After more than 100 years of experience, we now know otherwise, that these lands would be better under state or private management. It’s a lesson I learned well during almost two decades at the Department of the Interior working as a policy analyst in the Office of the Secretary.
Instead of much greater efficiency, the research conducted by myself and others has shown that federal management turned out to be wasteful — typical of many government-owned enterprises around the world over the course of the 20th century — as well as detrimental to the land itself.
For those who had not witnessed the blast-furnace heat and the eye-stinging smoke of a wildfire along with the mass destruction of timber, homes, businesses and wildlife, last week was a learning experience.
Nearly every corner of the West was on fire. From Arizona to Washington state and from California to Montana, 65 active fires were burning 2.83 million acres as of late last week. Those numbers include only the fires that were 10,000 acres or larger. The average size of those fires was 43,556 acres
By T.H. DeLuca, dean of the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation at the University of Montana
In this age of changing climate and declining forest health, I believe there’s an enormous opportunity to find common ground through sustainable forest management and mass timber products—specifically, through cross-laminated timber.
During the latter part of 20th century, US forestry leaned toward maximum production and away from the conservation ethic that spawned the establishment of the National Forest System. From the 1950s to 1980s, the practice of conservation forestry as envisioned by inaugural Forest Service Chief, Gifford Pinchot, was overtaken administrators’ economically driven focus on achieve maximum allowable yield, with only localized emphasis on the health of the environment. Predictably, the capacity of the federal forest system to deliver ecological services (clean water, habitat, and aesthetics) quickly declined.
As the impacts of these practices became clearer, the public began to equate forestry with other extractive industries, such as mining and oil exploration. This shift in public perception fueled demand for greater conservation of public lands, and also helped drive major policy changes to federal forest management. The result was an abrupt reduction in forest harvest on federal lands from the mid-1990s to today (timber harvest in Montana is about 20 percent of what it had been in the 80s), leaving what were once heavily managed forests in a state of unmanaged regeneration. The impetus for these changes—preserving our forests—was fully necessary, yet wholly unmanaged regeneration, without the purifying and random influences of fire or wind-throw, has created widely spread over-stocked forest stands that are neither appropriate as wildlife habitat nor productive as forests.
So the question is, “How can forestry and an engineered wood product simultaneously bridge our ecological and social divides?”
A quiet revolution in wood building products began is just now reaching the US. That revolution is the generation of mass timber products—extremely strong panels and beams created from the glue lamination of boards and slabs—that can be used as structural components in large buildings. These panels help create buildings that are structurally sound and that are actually more resilient in the face of earthquakes or fires.
Because CLT is built from small dimensional lumber, one can use smaller-diameter trees in their manufacture. This creates greater value for trees from restoration or fuel-reduction harvests in western and central Montana and creates an economic incentive to conduct habitat-improving activities that might not happen otherwise.
In the last few years, this wood product has brought together foresters, environmentalists, lumber mills, green architects, urban planners, and agency personnel around a shared vision for a sustainable future. This group might be formerly have had very different or even antagonistic interests, but are now sharing a unifying goal of balancing sustainable forest management with green building, rural community well-being, and reduced suburban sprawl.
There’s still a lot more to learn about CLT, and how best to build an industry that will uphold the many values that need to be served, but perhaps the agreement around CLT exemplifies what is needed to overcome polarization and accomplish shared goals through a lasting bond.
By Dr. Joseph Roise, professor, Department of Forestry and Environmental Services, North Carolina State University
Wildfires have devastated Western North Carolina in the past few months, only recently having been quelled by the work of hundreds of firefighters and well-timed rainfall. These disasters, which are often caused by humans but sometimes occur naturally, for instance those caused by a lightning strike, can have lasting implications ranging from the endangerment of flora, fauna, and human lives to the crippling of local economies that rely on tourism, to the devastating effects of erosion on newly exposed soils often resulting in floods and through loss of timber for industry and consumers. Despite the often-unpredictable path of these fires, much can be done to help prevent them. Through proactive sustainable management and maintenance of forests, foresters and partnerships between private landowners and the forestry industry play a crucial role to help reduce the risk of wildfires.Partnerships between private landowners and the forestry industry play a crucial role to help reduce the risk of wildfires
Another severe fire season has come and gone. This past year, 60,000 fires scorched nearly 5.5 million acres, destroying 5,000 homes and buildings. Most tragically, we suffered the loss of 12 federal, state and local wildland firefighters. The continuing national trend is clear — fire seasons are longer and wildfires burn bigger, hotter and faster.
As fires increase, so does the impact on the U.S. Forest Service’s budget. Responding to catastrophic fires demands a larger and larger percentage of the agency’s financial resources. The costs of firefighting were once relatively stable and could be predicted. But drought, changes in climate, longer and hotter fire seasons, and the complexity of protecting more than 44 million homes in and around forest edges are sending costs skyward.
As the new Congress convenes, Americans at large — especially those who have experienced the destruction and threats to safety, property and clean air and water firsthand — are again looking to Congress to finally approve the bipartisan relief they came short of enacting last session.
Ecologist Suzanne Simard shares how she discovered that trees use underground fungi networks to communicate and share resources, uprooting the idea that nature constantly competes for survival.
About Suzanne Simard:
Suzanne Simard is a professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia. Her work demonstrated that these complex, symbiotic networks in our forests mimic our own neural and social networks. She has thirty years of experience studying the forests of Canada.
The standstill agreement on softwood lumber trade expired recently, leaving Canadians holding their breath for the U.S. Lumber Coalition to launch legal proceedings.
In the calm before the storm of the next Canada-U.S. softwood lumber dispute, speculation about how the issue will unfold has crystallized around two options: a tax or a quota. The differences may appear merely technical, but they would mean vastly different things economically.
While a quota would impose a cap on exports to the United States, a tax would allow the level of exports to fluctuate with U.S. consumers’ willingness to pay for Canadian lumber. In other words, as U.S. lumber prices increase, Canadian lumber would still be able to enter the U.S. market to meet demand.
Many of our national forests are in dire condition and Congress must take urgent action to address this worsening crisis.
Catastrophic wildfires have once again wreaked havoc this year, leaving nearly 5 million acres burned, destroying hundreds of homes, unleashing untold amounts of carbon dioxide into the air and, most tragically, claiming several lives. These unacceptable outcomes are hardly new; they have been harsh realities for many years running. And with tens of millions of dead and damaged trees across many national forests, the problem will only grow worse.
As Forest Service professionals who dedicated our professional lives to protecting these forests, we have closely examined the science related to the causes and facilitators of catastrophic wildfire. The science overwhelmingly shows that excessive fuel loads, overly crowded tree stands, and trees weakened by drought, insects and diseases all contribute to the severity of wildfires. In our judgment, more active management to address these factors, including more responsible and timely harvesting, is unquestionably needed.