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Let’s go back to the turn of the century. No, not the 20th/21st centuries, but back to the 19th/20th century. It was then that the National Park and National Forest services began, then quickly expanded later by Pres. Theodore Roosevelt. The former set aside national wilderness as federally managed land for the public to enjoy, the latter as federally managed land to maintain wilderness, agriculture and the timber industry. That last part is important: The National Forests had an aspect towards maintaining the timber industry.
For about a hundred years, this had gone pretty well. The timber industry harvested in the national forests and replanted so they could go back around again. Several decades back, the industries overplanted figuring once the trees grew to maturity they’d have even more to harvest. The result are the dense forest lands I grew up with in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, one of the first engineering firms had several projects with the National Forest Service, and our contact was from the East. She hated Oregon forests because they were so dense. Well, this was by the timber industries’ design. Then we come to the late eighties/early nineties.
Environmentalism was on the rise, and in the Pacific Northwest one of the key designated villains were the timber industries. We were told that the industries just wanted to clear cut all of Oregon’s forests and leave nothing. The Spotted Owl was paraded around as needing the old growth trees. It didn’t help that almost a century later, no one remembered there was a distinction made between national parks and national forests – a fact the environmentalists exploited to their favor. Popular opinion against timber industries rose, and it didn’t take long to find a sympathetic judge to block timber harvesting.
This is already creating a problem. By overplanting, the industries were making forests unnaturally dense. They normally wouldn’t be this way, but since the plan was to remove most of those trees in their near future it wasn’t considered too much a problem. Except they didn’t anticipate being blocked from harvesting the trees they planted. As the trees choked each other out, that created more and more deadwood.
Here’s something fun, have you seen a rotting tree before? It’s not mushy like vegetables. No, it’s dry and crumbly. Now the timber industry typically had a plan for this as well. They would routine go through the forest and find deadwood and salvage it to be made into useful products. But guess who came in again? Right – the environmentalists again succeeded in blocking efforts.
Growing up, I understood Oregon to be a timber industry state. It was our main export. My dad’s dad worked at the lumber mill in Lebanon, Oregon. Last time I had been in that area, the mill had closed. The timber industries’ loss meant job losses down the line, furthering the decay of small towns like the one where my grandparents lived.
But beyond job loss, we can see the problem, I believe. Dense forests and dry, rotting deadwood are just a tinderbox waiting to happen. The federal government supposedly manages these lands now, but we can see how well that’s going. All it would take is one spark to get the fire started and it would be disastrous. And it is. The Eagle Creek fire in the Columbia Gorge turns out to be started by a teenager and his friends who were messing around with illegal fireworks. Just a spark is all it would take and it seems we got much more than that.
This is a prime example of good intentions paving the road to hell. Environmentalists who knew little about forest management relied on their own judgment and feelings as they vilified the people who understood and practiced forest management on a daily basis. The federal government is wholly incapable of maintaining the large swaths of land it lays claim to on its own. And now we had the results. And now my home state and its neighbors are on fire.
Just kidding. It’s really all the fault of Climate Change.