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2009 Northwest Environmental Forum-October 28-29, 2009 Summary Part II

Eastside Forest Health Convention: Challenges and Solutions, Spokane, WA

The Northwest Environmental Forum strives to address regional environmental and natural resource issues. The School of Forest Resources is pivotal in helping regional policy makers reach decisions about sustaining natural resource productivity. Other University colleges and centers – Ocean and Fisheries Sciences, Arts and Sciences, Public Policy, Architecture and Urban Planning, Engineering, Information Sciences, Atmosphere and Oceans, Law, Business and Marine Affairs – are integral to the Forum goal.

This Part II Summary highlights the “Findings” from the Forum.

  • Eastern Washington dry forests are in a crisis condition that requires active management to restore forest health and reduce catastrophic fire danger. Problems of disease, insects, and wildfire know no boundaries and are growing increasingly worse, accelerated by climate change coupled with lack of treatment.
  • Climate change and increased fire risk are inextricably linked. A two degree Celsius rise in temperature will likely result in a 100%-200% increase in forest areas burned by wildfire.
  • Fire, disease and bugs are part of the natural forest ecology but conditions today and for the projected future are significantly outside historic norms.
  • Management prescriptions for large-scale landscapes (>5,000 acres) for ecosystem restoration should strive to mimic historic conditions of resilience and robustness – a mosaic of even and uneven-aged stands with species mix appropriate to that region. There is a high degree of comfort with the level of scientific knowledge about forest and fire ecology.
  • Achieving desired conditions requires removal of surface fuels, ladder fuels and crown fuels in conjunction with controlled understory burning.
  • Outcomes should be focused on what’s left behind (general target of 50-100 trees/ acre in uneven-aged management eastside dry forests) rather than on what is removed.
  • Treatment units should be large scale (minimum of 5,000 acres up to 50,000 acres or larger), consistent with Forest Restoration Act criteria. Forest Service stewardship treatment contracts should be at least 10-20 years in duration to allow stability of workforce; investment in infrastructure to process output materials and provide adequate time for assessment and adaptive prescriptions.
  • Federal and state management objectives for forest restoration, biodiversity and fire-resistant landscapes on dry, mesic and moist forest ecosystems should be multi-resource, landscape-scale and not oriented toward single species or stand level prescriptions.
  • Proposed entries should focus on roaded areas except under extreme forest health conditions, where such entry would require community support. At this time there is much roaded and available land to treat.
  • Reduction of catastrophic fire risk requires treatment of 25-30% of affected areas using strategically-focused actions based on USFS modeling, in conjunction with DNR and tribal forestry information. 70% or more of certain areas may need to be treated to achieve desired forest health conditions.
  • Different ownerships will require different treatment protocols (e.g. private lands will not have the same prescriptions as habitat-designated USFS land).
  • To address the scale of the current problems in areas of inter-mixed or “checkerboard” ownership, collaboration of management actions among ownerships is essential for effective forest health treatments. Authority and resources to create this necessary action space will require congressional and legislative action as well as changes in agency cultures and procedures.
  • Ecosystem Services Districts could be defined and organized based on affected landscape and communities (e.g. Santa Fe watershed example) – (“Forest Restoration and Fire Prevention Districts.”)
  • A sophisticated public information and education campaign focused on forest restorations and catastrophic fire threat reduction is essential to sustain activities at the scale and duration required to address the current and projected conditions. Effectively engaging decision makers at the local, state and federal levels is a critical part of this strategy.
  • Multi-organization coordination of research and applied science is essential.
  • Facilitated collaboration will be necessary to enable stakeholders to reach durable agreements as the necessary basis for landscape scale management.

Complete presentations and dialogues of the Northwest Environmental Forum, School of Forest Resources, University of Washington, College of the Environment can be viewed at www.nwenvironmentallforum.org.

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