Wyden considers thinning as method to ease wildfire risks
WASHINGTON (AP) – In his first hearing as chairman of the forests and public lands subcommittee, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., heard familiar arguments about whether thinning trees is an appropriate way to reduce wildfire risks in national forests.
The timber industry said removing some trees from forests is a valid way to improve forest health by taking away wood that can provide dangerous fuels for wildfires. Forests, the industry says, are unnaturally dense after decades of fire suppression.
But an environmentalist cautioned that not enough research has been done to be certain that thinning projects improve forest health.
”There’s a whole variety of things that cut the other way when you try to mimic the natural distribution of trees with chain saws,” said Nathaniel Lawrence, senior attorney for Natural Resources Defense Council.
For example, he said, heavy logging equipment is sometimes used, which compacts soil and forces water to run off too quickly.
Tom Nelson, forest policy director at Sierra Pacific Industries in Redding, Calif., said he and others in the timber industry are talking about ”commonsense thinning.” To offset costs, he wants to see projects that would allow trees removed from forests to be used for wood products or electricity production.
Nelson said that would improve forest health and create jobs: ”Our forests, wildlife and communities can’t afford any more delay.”
Separately, the Forest Service’s fire policy was criticized Tuesday by Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group.
The group obtained a Sept. 7 letter from Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth to agency officials. In it, Bosworth estimated that firefighting costs would reach $699 million this year and would exceed available funds by $230 million. As a result, some agency projects will be put on hold or require permission to continue.
”It was only a matter of time before excessive fire spending caught up with the agency,” said Jonathan Oppenheimer, the group’s forest campaign director.
Bosworth’s letter also points out that Congress has traditionally reimbursed the agency for funds borrowed from its own accounts to fight fires.
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