How to Prevent National Forests Becoming 'National Ashtrays'

An editorial calls for innovative policy in post-fire recovery and reforestation. The recent release of the Environmental Impact Statement for the recovery of the Rim Fire should serve as a barometer for a "new public forestry."

"Something is terribly wrong with California’s national forests, vast public lands that cover 20 percent of our state. According to the U.S. Forest Service, they’re burning up faster than we’re replenishing them. They’re also on track to become net carbon emitters by the middle of this century," reports William Kade Keye.

To put the scale of deforestation by forest fire in some context: "Imagine a continuous swath of fire-charred trees 1.9 miles wide stretching from Los Angeles to San Francisco. That’s how much of California’s national forests have been converted to “deforested conditions” just this century."

The article includes a primer on the history of national forest management policy, as well as the current state of policy and the impact of climate change on the size and severity of forest fires.

On the latter point: "Post-fire recovery and reforestation, including tree planting, is expensive. It requires public support and investment. A reliable funding source is the sale of dead timber to nearby sawmills. Unfortunately, some activists have vigorously – often successfully – opposed post-fire salvage logging. Stopping all commercial harvesting, even that required to clear dead trees for reforestation, has become an ideological badge of honor."

The editorial instead recommends active management of forests, which Keye argues will modify future wildfire impact. The Forest Service, says Keye, needs t win this next test: "The Stanislaus [National Forest] has just released its draft environmental impact statement, which supports carefully targeted salvage logging in advance of urgently needed reforestation. Alarming voices, citing dubious science, will line up in opposition, doing everything they can to maintain the failed status quo."

Full Story: Viewpoints: Don’t let our burned-out national forests become a ‘national ashtray’

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