Caring and Conserving: The Future of ForestryBy: Amos S. Eno
A transcript of my presentation at EarthX's Meet the EarthXpert member event on April 1, 2021. I also serve as a Strategic Alliances Coordinator for EarthX. Click here to watch the full video.
1. Daulton O’Neill (Partnerships Development, EarthX): Western Forest Fires is our focus. What are we dealing with here?
First, we are staring at a century of conscious policies creating an incendiary environment, such as the fire suppression on our western forests that dates back to 1909 and the great fire of 2010, and to Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, what you might call the “Smokey The Bear” syndrome, and the creeping effect of unconscious policies such as building homes for 5 decades in the wildland /urban interface, and the effects of compounding environmental regulations.
Second, we are confronting the legacy of 50 years of environmental activism that designated millions of acres of Wilderness areas, restricting all forest management-” untrammeled by hand of man”-in ecosystems that Amerindians burned for millennia, the addition of road less areas, and then the huge regulatory imprint of endangered species listings, such as the 1990 spotted owl listing which sounded the death knell for most small western forest products companies with the loss of 70,000 jobs in Pacific Northwest states.
Third, on top of those regulatory burdens you have the annual litigation challenges by the environmental community to prevent tree salvage and forest management using the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and California clean air regulations. This trifecta of environmental litigation leads to immobilization of forest management and the institutionalization of the philosophy that “You can’t cut a tree down”. This is not only occurring in the West but this attitude is imperiling the Pinelands of NJ where a catastrophic fire will smoke out both Philadelphia and NYC because of the buildup of fuels over the last 50 years in a forest that abuts our largest swath of suburbia.
2. O’Neill: What is the magnitude of the problem we face?
ASE: The problem is huge and will take decades to work out remedially. About half of the nations’ 885 million acres of forest lands requires restorative forest management. In terms of western forest fires: the ten year average is 61,000 fires per year, and 6.7 million acres burned annually. Last year, 2020, we experienced 57,000 fires in the West which burned 10.4 million acres. We had comparable fire years in 2018, 2015-2017, 2011-2012, 2004-2009, and 2000-2001. We have already had 183,000 acres burned in 2021. Recognize that smoke emanating from these fires is a major, major health threat and killer causing 15,000-44,000 deaths. There are over 300 western counties in the West which are seeing major smoke waves in the current and next few decades.
3. O’Neill: What about global warming which environmentalists say is the cause of these fires?
That is the favorite ploy of the environmental community; it is what I call “agenda annexation”-apply any natural disaster to your favorite cause as a propellant. Yes, we have a longer fire season and yes, the West has experienced intermittent drought for several decades, but the cause of these fires is decadal growth in fuel loads. California has more than 90 million dead trees in its forests. To put out these fires we have to have forest management on a continental scale.
4. O’Neill: How do we get out of this mess; what are the solutions?
The solutions are actually pretty simple in terms of policy, but they will be expensive.
First, we need to take our cues from the Amerindian communities and their spokespeople, which is why our EARTHX Forestry show begins with Amerindian interviews. We have a plethora of anthropological data going back millennia as well as recent cultural history documenting extensive burning for forest management, of our Amerindian antecedents across North America, what our 21st century foresters call “Pre-scribed burning”. And in today’s forest management world many tribes like the Menominee in Wisconsin are among the best forest managers in the U.S.
Second, the issue will only be addressed by sustained federal funding on the order of an additional $2 billion a year for US Forest Service and companion federal agencies, like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). We are currently spending a mere $510 million on forest management and this need to be initially quadrupled to $2-3 billion annually, with further ramped up funding in out years for a 10 to 20 year and possibly longer duration and commitment for sustained forest management on public lands. Everybody in Congress knows this issue, but for twenty years Congress has not seen fit to do other than tweaks at the wheel of funding. This western forest fire issue should be incorporated as a major provision of any forthcoming infrastructure bill crafted by Congress in the next two years. This problem has been building for 100 years; the workout will take at least 30 years and an investment of $2-3 billion per year – a trifling for current Congressional leadership.
Third, there needs to be an unprecedented level of cooperation and formalized coordination between multiple federal agencies (U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service and BLM as a core) and state fire agencies (such as CAL Fire), and local county governments as well as the National Association of Forest Owners (NAFO) for a landscape scale forest management implementation strategy.
Finally, The administration and Congress needs to put an end to environmental litigants seeking to impede aggressive forest management practices by passing no injunction legislation. Congress has done this before in the face of national emergencies with labor with the passage of the Norris /Laguardia act in 1932.
5. O’Neill: What should be EarthX’s role?
For more than 50 years the environmental movement in the U.S. has been propelled by an East /West bi-coastal elite. On the West coast the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth out of San Francisco, which has metastasized to embrace CA, OR, WA, and a good part of AZ with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), and on the East Coast the NY/DC axis of National Audubon, NRDC, EDF, Wilderness Society dominate an environmental agenda that has been treading water intellectually and politically for decades. The movement’s prescriptions, emanating from this bi-coastal axis, are unrealistic and serve to undermine both the economy and American leadership and social strength.
EarthX, out of Dallas, TX has the opportunity to represent the real America of our heartland states with solutions driven by common sense, entrepreneurship, technological innovation, and a bi-partisan political harnessing to solve our myriad environmental problems. This offers a much higher prospect of on-the-ground success than the increasingly radical agendas proposed by the environmental movement in recent decades.
I recommend to everyone Jim Petersen's book, First Put Out the Fire.