US climate policy must protect forests and communities, not the forest industry

Author :

The introduction of The Green New Deal resolution and the appointment of a House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, has propelled climate change back into the national policy debate. That’s why today, on the International Day of Forests, hundreds of citizens across the nation are urging members of Congress to stand up and protect America’s forests and to hold the US forest industry accountable for its contribution to climate change.

Forests play a vital, yet often misunderstood, role in solving the climate crisis. When disturbed they release carbon, but when left to grow they actively pull carbon out of the air and store it while simultaneously cooling the air, providing natural flood control, stabilizing fresh water supplies and supporting biodiversity.

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Are we going in the right direction?

March 8th,  2019

Hello, friends of Napa County’s watersheds and water protectors. We hope this finds you well.  First, in case you missed it, a Letter to the Editor from Mike Hackett with some clarifications post-Measure C. http://bit.ly/2XLDgqz

We also wanted to give you just a quick report, with more to come, on the March 6th Planning Commission meeting of the Draft water quality and tree protection ordinance, and a few other items we think will be of interest.

You may have seen the Register article summarizing the meeting. If not, you can read it here: http://bit.ly/2tVMVx5

If you would like to watch the video of the proceedings, you can do so here: http://bit.ly/2IXkOrx

Following public testimony, deliberations by the Commission begin around the 3hr 3 minute mark.

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To Fight a Pipeline, Live in a Tree

For almost five months, Phillip Flagg has been living in a chestnut oak tree 50 feet above the ground. His home is a four-by-eight sheet of plywood, a little larger than a typical dining room table, that is lashed to the oak’s boughs. Since going aloft on October 12, he has not set foot on the ground.

Below him there’s small group of about a dozen scrupulously anonymous young people who take care of Flagg’s basic human needs. They’re all here to halt the construction of a natural gas pipeline in rural Elliston, in the Virginia highlands near Roanoke. For many of them, organizing, staffing, and supporting long-term eco-protests like this is as a way of life.

Unlike his campmates, Flagg, a 24-year-­old native of Austin, Texas, doesn’t mind revealing his identity. Before Yellow Finch, as this particular tree-sitting exercise is called, he participated in two other “action camps.” He was also at Standing Rock, the much-publicized protests that erupted in 2016 in an effort to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. But that doesn’t really count, he insists: “Everyone was at Standing Rock.”

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Treat homes, not forests, to reduce wildfire risk

Recently Donald Trump used his executive authority to mandate increased logging of our public lands with the goal of reducing wildfire threat to communities. His order instructs land managers to treat (read log) 8.45 million acres of land and cut 4.4 million board feet of timber ostensibly to reduce fire hazard.

Unfortunately, the mandate ignores the latest fire science which suggests you start at the home and work outwards to reduce fire risk to communities.  It’s time to change our fire policy to reflect what we are learning about the role of global heating in fire ecology and forest ecology.

Trying to minimize fire which is natural to most plant community in the West is wrong-headed. Instead, we must promote effective strategies that allow communities to persist in fire-prone ecosystems. We do this by reducing home construction in fire-prone landscapes and by reducing the flammability of homes.

Current fire policies focus on promoting forest alterations, mainly through logging, to change fire severity.   It is the lack of high severity fire that impoverishes many forest ecosystems.

Trump’s policies will harm forest ecosystems, while logging is one of the leading contributors to global GHG emissions, exacerbating global heating.

Most fires are small-burning less than 5 acres. These fires occur during low to moderate fire weather conditions. Though they account for 95-98% of all fires, they burn a small percentage of the landscape, and few threaten communities.

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Industrial forestry contributes to the West’s wildfire crisis

Author Craig Patterson

Imagine words so prophetic yet so misunderstood that agencies and science get sabotaged by ignorance and greed.

The U.S, Forest Service refuses to admit that past management has had significant ongoing consequences and that we can’t solve a problem using the same thinking that created it.

Case in point: the wildfires currently raging throughout the West.

The Forest Service says we are experiencing these cataclysmic wildfires due to fire suppression and climate change, and that thinning the forests will reduce the danger.

Now witness California, Oregon and worldwide, as wildfire records are broken yearly.

Forty years ago, I remember the old bulls saying, “We don’t put out fires in the woods. Either the rains come or they run into an old growth forest and fall to the ground as a surface fire and go out.”

Now, with 95 percent of the old growth gone, only the rains really help extinguish fires of any size and consequence. Until we acknowledge and understand the connections between past practices and current realities, we will continue to experience uncharacteristic fire danger.

The Forest Service and many scientists ignore these most significant changes that have occurred in essentially three generations. This is why crown fires have become far more common today and are nearly impossible to be put out. They are consequences of past management.

Logging and replacing healthy, diverse forests with tree plantations has eliminated a key factor that seriously affects wildfire behavior (surface fire) and corresponding intensity. Rain is the other factor. Last year we spent the summer fighting uncontrollable wildfires. Then the rains returned, and three days later — problem over.

Healthy intact forests maintain shade and absorb the rain in aquifers, moderating erosion and drought while supporting diverse species in symbiotic harmony. Clearcutting causes soil, water and slash to heat, leading to erosion and ultimately leaving no forest if the integrity of the soil goes.

In the beginning, Gifford Pinchot and Teddy Roosevelt defined the mission of the Forest Service to obtain “the greatest good for the greatest number for the longest time.”

But after World War II, automation and technology drove the Forest Service to pursue the greatest good for fewest number for shortest time. Between 1950 and 1990, the Willamette National Forest cut more than 25.5 billion board feet of timber, whereas in the previous 58 years it cut 3 billion to 4 billion board feet. Where and how are the environmental, economic and social consequences accounted for in management or science? Meanwhile, the extent and consequences of today’s wildfires are too overwhelming to ignore.

Now we have our sacred cow — restoration as a focus and a determinant of places and projects to fund. However, ignoring past logging consequences allows current logging to persist. Today many restoration technologies and practices actually follow and supplement industrial forestry while consequences and lessons remain disconnected.

Today McKenzie Bridge is ground zero for the Goose Project, a restoration project which has been forced upon us under the guise of making us more “fire safe.”

Yet I’ve seen log trucks rolling by with three or four logs to the bunk. Old growth trees pushing 4 feet in diameter being cut in the name of “restoration.” Cutting these big trees makes us less fire safe, not more.

Little about industrial forestry is sustainable — environmentally economically or socially; yesterday, today or tomorrow. It’s a short boom followed by protracted bust every time. Privatized profits and socialized liabilities do not make for healthy forests or healthy communities.

The jury is in if we see the forest holistically and with common sense. How we repair the blind spots in our wildfire management philosophy and practice are questions that need to be asked. Our children and grandchildren depend upon it.

Craig Patterson of McKenzie Bridge has been a member of a forestry cooperative and delivered a paper to the National Roundtable on Sustainable forests in Washington, D.C, in 2005.