Anti-Forestry Rally in Downtown Portland: Misguided Policy Will Lead to More Wildfire and Smoke

Under the guise of “protecting” mature and old growth forests, several anti-forestry groups today are holding a rally in downtown Portland to pressure the Biden Administration and the U.S. Forest Service to issue new regulations restricting active forest management on overstocked and fire-prone national forests in Oregon and throughout the West.

This policy would be disastrous as our forests, communities and wildlife continue to be devastated by wildfires and smoke. The American Forest Resource Council says limiting the ability of federal agencies to treat overstocked and fire-prone forests will only lead to less old growth on our public lands and more carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. Here’s why:

The West is losing mature and old growth forests to severe wildfires, not logging.

As many as 10,000 giant sequoia trees have been destroyed by wildfires, bringing national attention to the impacts of wildfires on mature and old growth forests. In California’s southern Sierra Nevada region, researchers have found 85 percent of mature forest habitat was lost or degraded by wildfire.

Researchers have also determined many national forests are unnaturally dense and need to be thinned to reduce wildfire dangers. One study found that tree densities should be reduced by as much as 80 percent for some overstocked fire-prone forests to be healthy and resilient, especially during this time of climate change. To save mature and old growth forests, experts and scientists are calling for more active forest management, not less.

Only 25 percent of National Forest Systems lands can be managed for timber, wildfire mitigation and forest resiliency.

Most lands managed by the federal government are already off-limits to logging or have restrictions that make active forest management infeasible. Forest Service projects to thin fire-prone forests and protect communities are often delayed or abandoned and can take years to implement. Several of the groups rallying in Portland today often sue the agency to stop projects that reduce wildfire risks and improve conditions for mature and old growth forests.  Rally organizers are the lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to halt all forest management treatments including hazardous fuels treatment work in Wildland Urban Interfaces and wildfire resilience treatments on over 200,000 acres of at-risk forests in central and eastern Oregon.

The groups are pushing for more anti-forestry regulations, even though only 25 percent of the National Forest System (NFS) lands are available for sustainable forest management.  This includes 17.6 million acres of NFS lands in Wild & Scenic River Corridors and 36.6 million acres of NFS lands that are in Congressionally Designated Wilderness Areas. The 58.2 million acres of NFS lands in Roadless Areas is larger than the entire National Park System, where forest management is also prohibited.

Anti-forestry activists want a “Roadless Rule” for mature and old growth forests.

Anti-forestry groups are rallying in Portland today because they want the Biden Administration to impose another rule to further restrict active forest management.  As reported in Politico, they envision regulations similar to the Roadless Area Conservation Rule approved during the Clinton Administration.

Over 37 million acres of national forests have burned since the Clinton-era Roadless Rule was adopted.

More than 37 million acres of National Forests have burned since the Clinton-era Roadless Rule was adopted, an acreage more than seven times larger than the acres where thinning and timber harvest has actually occurred during this time.  Fires are burning so hot some forests are failing to regenerate naturally.  Efforts to restrict management in “old growth and mature” forests ignore the fact that forests are dynamic ecosystems where disturbance events can reset 100- to 200-year-old forests to zero in a single day.

More wildfires and smoke are not a solution to climate change.

Oregon’s 2020 wildfires emitted over 25 million metric tons of carbon, that’s more than the state’s annual transportation power sector emissions combined. A new analysis led by researchers with the University of California, Los Angeles found California’s 2020 wildfires-the most disastrous wildfire year on record- reversed the state’s climate gains by putting twice as much greenhouse gas emissions into the Earth’s atmosphere as its total reduction in these pollutants in California between 2003 and 2019.

Managing forests, reducing fire risks and using wood are climate solutions.

Active forest management helps make our forests more resilient to wildfires and other threats and provides natural wood products that store carbon and serve as sustainable alternatives to more energy-intensive materials.  Healthy, growing trees remove and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When timber is sustainably harvested, much of that carbon stays in the wood, lumber and other timber products indefinitely.

A range of effective active forest management tools, including timber harvesting, thinning and controlled burns, can be used to help forests better adapt to changing climate conditions. Responsibly managed forests also help to increase the net carbon dioxide absorption by reducing the risk of mortality caused by catastrophic fire, disease and insects that increase carbon-emissions.

Among commonly used building materials, wood is the only truly-renewable material and has the lowest energy consumption and the lowest carbon emissions in product manufacturing. Across the product lifecycle, wood products achieve negative carbon emissions– lower than any other building material – and also requires very little non-renewable energy for their manufacture. With global demand for building materials and other natural resources projected to double by 2060, a recent United Nations report has called for a large increase in the use of wood products to meet this demand.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the most trusted voice on climate change, says “sustainable forest management aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fiber or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit.”