Invitation to open discussion with the Sierra Club – Active Forest Management

Article published by the Sierra Club – Tehipite Chapter

Recently Gary Lasky, the Tehipite Chapter Chair at Sierra Club, penned an article “Environmentalists Falsely Blamed for Creek Fire to Distract from Profit-driven National Forest Logging Policy” (Tehipite Topics, December 2020). We, at Citizens For Sensible Forest Management, have written the following reply to the Sierra Club. We feel this is a topic that needs to have balanced discussion to drive solutions forward.

Firstly, Gary references hateful phone calls made to local chapter officials. CSFM do not condone any activity, from anyone that does not drive towards a positive dialog from all sides.

Outside of that we find Mr. Lasky’s article lopsided, biased and rooted in an opinion and strategy that has not adapted to changes that have occurred in the last 30 years. His position is more reminiscent of the old “think global, act local” that has been replaced by “think global, act global”1. He describes a need to continue with policies that have failed to adapt to climate change, global population growth, environmental challenges or the realities of economics.

What Citizens for Sensible Forest Management is committed to

We believe there is an immediate need for change in our forest management policies that have evolved over the last 100 years. We believe there is a balance that can be achieved that will lead to:

  1. Well managed, healthier forests, that are more resistant to cataclysmic wildfires, drought and disease.
  2. A balance of resource management and usage that is aligned with world leading best practices. Provides for local use of a critical renewable resource, while ensuring a lower total lifecycle carbon assessment and restoring rural economic growth.
  3. Create a safer, wildlife urban boundary to support population growth, protecting communities.

CSFM came together after the devastating west coast fires of 2020. As a group of stakeholders from many areas, we came together to search for a better way to protect the forest land. CSFM realizes that what has happened over the last century in not working. We are not looking back to assign blame but looking forward to urgent solutions.

2020 – a devastating year for wildfires

We all know that this year has been devastating. The numbers speak for themselves. Over 5,000,000 million acres burnt, the first California giga-fire, thousands of homes destroyed, and the countless lives lost. In California alone over 110 million tons of CO2 released2, with an estimate 2000+ early deaths from smoke. The costs for firefighting alone are escalating out of control. The early estimates for the overall costs in 2020 are over $10B, including more than $3 billion for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The total costs are likely to be much higher. The insurance industry estimates costs over $11.4B for the California fires in 20183. This is all crisis spending. These billions of dollars can be much more efficiently spent creating healthy forests, fires resilient communities and investing in world leading methods of managing and utilizing sustainable forestry. These costs repeat and escalate every year.

Surely this is not the solution that Mr. Lasky is supporting?

We have arrived at this crisis point over time and indeed there are many contributing factors. Moving forward will require all parties, including environmentalists to compromise their current dogmatic position.

The problem on the ground

It’s well recognized and scientifically documented that the western forests are unhealthy, overly dense and carry a huge fuel load. Much of this can be traced back to the Forest Service fire suppression policy from the Great Fire of 1910. Continuous fire suppression has allowed the fuel load to grow. Allowing dead stands to remain increases the lower story fuel load over time. Negative reaction to thinning and prescribed burns have prevented the Forest Service from treating nearly enough acreage. Dave Mihalic (former Superintendent Yosemite NationalPark) posted a great article on the challenges of the Forest Service to manage their land. He concludes:

Not just Californians, but many people seem to believe they can have un-cut Fire-dependent forests that shouldn’t burn, and should never be cut. But, that belief only continues to build up fuel loads, and then they are surprised when forests burn as wildfires and turn into conflagrations.

However, to think the Sierra Club has not contributed to this difficulty is also wrong. Every action proposed by the Forest Service requires masses of paper work often under the threat of legal action.

Much of this can be traced back to NEPA and ESA. The Forest Service estimates that for every 1,000 acres of land they plan to treat they have to create 500 pages of supporting material, with successful projects taking years. Vicki Christiansen, head of the Forest Service, estimates there are in the US a billion acres of forest land at risk, with 80,000,000 acres belonging to the Forest Service4.

Mr. Lasky reserves his harshest criticism for what he perceives as an economic extremism with a desire to clear-cut all the forest land. In this he demonstrates an economic naivete that has perpetuated the recent history on environmentalism with an overall negative impact on both the global economy and more so the global environment. Overall timber harvests in the US and especially in the pacific north west and south have dropped tremendously over the last 20 years5. Clearcutting is now almost none existent.

Large-scale timber harvest from national forest system lands
Large-scale timber harvest from national forest system lands6

Economic Reality

However US timber imports increase to meet demand. That demand is driven by economic growth. Professor Bowyer points out in his book “The Irresponsible Pursuit of Paradise” the fallacy of acting locally. Reduction in US harvests, led to an increase in Canadian imports. This required a change in the supply chain for Japan and Korea. They changed their imports to Russia, who have been harvesting the boreal forests in northern Siberia. Globally we have traded harvesting a resource that renews in 60-80 years to a resource that renews every 800 years! Professor Bowyer also points out that wood is much more environmentally sound resource than concrete or steel. We devalue this environmental advantage by increasing the overall environmental impact through importing.

Sustainable forest management techniques have changed over the years. Including being able to make more economic use of small diameter timber. Wood science has led to new material such as cross laminated timbers (CLT) and biomass. These too should be embraced as tools that will lead economic viability for rural communities. Indeed, governments continue to set price points and tax incentives to support a variety of environmental causes, from solar, to electric vehicles as we move to a greener economy. It’s time for the Sierra Club to advocate for research and investment in timber technology to support that movement.

The world has changed

Much has changed since the introduction of NEPA and ESA. The US population has increased from 200 million to 330 million, the world population 3.7 billion to 7.7 billion. In order for us to adapt to these changes, support the continued expected population and economic growth and manage the climate change disaster, we need an active management philosophy, to support sustainability and economic growth. We need to join together to think globally and act globally, and not have a continuation of failed historic policies.

In our own backyard, real life example of how important it is to manage forests, including appropriate logging. Southern Cal Edison showed us the difference between good forest management and bad forest management on the Creek Fire. If it wasn’t for what they have been doing the town of Shaver Lake could have been completely destroyed.

We ask Mr. Lasky, and the Sierra Club, to join us in driving change for forest management and not regurgitating failed arguments from the rear-view mirror. The time is now for constructive dialog and change.

  1. Think globally, act globally! | City Writeups | Sustainability Dec 2020 []
  2. California wildfires emitted a huge amount of carbon dioxide this year. How much of a problem is that? []
  3. Insurance claims from deadly 2018 California wildfires top $11.4B []
  4. 1 Billion Acres At Risk For Catastrophic Wildfires, U.S. Forest Service Warns. []
  5. Harvest Trends on National Forest System Lands, FY 1984 to 2018 (fs.fed.us) []
  6. USDA Forest Service – Caring for the land and serving people. (fs.fed.us) []

One thought on “Invitation to open discussion with the Sierra Club – Active Forest Management

  • January 24, 2021 at 10:26 pm
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    This morning I read with interest the article in The Fresno Bee titled “From ashes of Creek Fire comes a citizens group appealing for sensible forest management”. Also, I read the article on your website by NBC titled “Decades of mismanagement led to choked forests – NBC”, which makes many good points. So, I thought you would be interested in the recent article by Bloomberg City Lab titled “A Lesson in Learning to Live With Fire, and Each Other” which focuses on the Dinkey Landscape Restoration Project on the southern quarter of the Sierra National Forest. It documents an approach to solving the problems described in the first two articles. (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-11-05/fighting-fire-with-fire-in-california-s-forests.) Mark T, Smith, Semi-retired Silviculturist, Clovis, CA

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