Pitts: Understanding the implications of not managing our national forests (letter)
A recent article in the Summit Daily explained that due to budget cuts and an increase in the number of visitors, the White River National Forest is struggling to keep up with the demand and “do the job adequately.”
Although the article did a great job of explaining the issue: less money, fewer employees and ultimately more work; and briefly discussed the forest fire funding issue, the article didn’t fully address the nature of the agency’s chronic budget problems. The reality is the US Forest Service used to be able to fund a variety of programs, including recreation and roads, thanks to revenues generated through active forest management. According to a congressional report, the Forest Service once averaged over $1 billion in revenues annually. Today, the Forest Service spends $2 for every $1 it produces, and with smaller budgets, cuts to programs become necessary. Timber harvests on National Forests are down 80% over the last 30 years, while at the same time, 65-82 million acres of Forest Service lands are at high risk of wildfires. In 2015, the White River National Forest only cut a little over ¼ of the wood allowed under the current forest plan.
The lack of management to remove excess growth are making our forests increasingly susceptible to catastrophic wildfires that threaten public safety, the economic livelihood of communities, water supply, and forest health. Last year alone, 10.1 million acres burned, while only a little over 200,000 acres were harvested. This means that 50 times as many acres burned as were responsibly harvested. While I recognize that not all of the acres that burned could, or even should, be harvested, this figure clearly demonstrates the need for more active forest management of our National Forests. So while I applaud the White River for utilizing volunteers and partners to help get work done, I worry whether that model is sustainable long term.
Health Forests Healthy Communities
Rocky Mountain States Director
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