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Featured Professional: Stefany Bales, Intermountain Forest Association, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

There has been considerable debate recently over what the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA), currently pending in the U.S. Senate, is and whether it will be helpful in reducing the impact of wildfire in our national forests.

One local group has demonstrated that they will apparently say anything to demonize the HFRA and to convince people that thinning forests is a bad idea.

Using the Momma Cascade timber sale and the Myrtle Creek fire, the Spokane-based Lands Council stooped to an all-time low in a desperate attempt to mischaracterize the issue.

The Lands Council claims that the Momma Cascade timber sale on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests is an example of a fuel reduction/thinning project as envisioned in the HFRA. It also contends that because the Myrtle Creek Fire burned in part of the sale that the project actually caused more problems than it solved. Its conclusion is fuel reduction sales don’t work, so we shouldn’t support the HFRA. Good logic if it were true.

IPNF Supervisor Ranotta McNair has said in no uncertain terms that the Momma Cascade sale was not a fuel reduction sale. The purpose of that sale was to remove some of the firs in the stand and replace them with white pine and larch. The average diameter of trees cut was 11 inches — not exactly huge. The project was about leaving the best trees behind. It was well analyzed and is consistent with the IPNF’s plans to restore some of North Idaho’s forests to what they once were.

Secondly, the Myrtle Creek Fire was an unfortunate result of carelessness in very dry conditions that resulted in serious threat to Bonners Ferry and its water supply. Evidence has shown that that fire behaved very differently in the areas that had been logged vs. the way it burned in the unmanaged areas. The fire climbed up into the crowns of the trees much more readily in areas that had not been managed.

Given the facts as they are, it appears that the Lands Council purposely tried to mislead people into believing the circumstances were different, which is unforgivable, especially when so much was at risk.

Unfortunately, the tactics the Lands Council uses are not unique. A similar-minded group of would-be forest saviors recently created a deceitful bit of street theater by dragging around a slice of a giant tree its claims was harvested from a thinning project. Didn’t take much to uncover that the group had actually stolen the slice from a Bureau of Land Management timber sale, which had been completed long before the HFRA was written.

One-hundred-ninety million acres of federal forest and rangeland are at high risk to catastrophic wildfire. Across the West is a sea of unbroken forest with trees growing so closely together that birds can’t fly between them. In some cases, 3,000 trees grow on a single acre where historically only 30 to 70 trees grew.

In 2002 Colorado’s Hayman Fire dumped mud and soot into Denver’s largest drinking water supply, torched thousands of acres of old-growth ponderosa pine and created the worst air conditions in Denver’s history. Oregon’s Biscuit Fire destroyed 80,000 acres of old growth habitat for the endangered northern spotted owl. Arizona’s Rodeo-Chediski Fire ravaged over 100,000 acres of habitat, including 20 sensitive nesting sights for the endangered Mexican Spotted Owl. These impacts are unacceptable, and avoidable.

The science is in regarding how best to reduce the impacts of wildfire on forests, wildlife, air and water quality, and communities. The HFRA does not give industry license to carve down big, old trees. It does not throw open the gates to log roadless areas. It does not shut people out of the public participation process. Anyone suggesting that is does either has not read the bill or is trying to mislead people. The HRFA does provide flexibility to forest managers and prioritizes science-based, site-specific management to ensure that our forests can survive the next fire that passes.

It’s time the charade stopped. These challenges are tough enough all by themselves without the bad feelings dishonesty causes.

*Stefany B. Bales is vice president of communications for the Intermountain Forest Association in Coeur d’Alene.

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