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A focus on the forest restoration need

Posted by Renee Magyar on March 16, 2016

Forest conditions play a critical role in restoring forest resiliency

Fuel-treatment-BEFORE_600

If you visit the Ochoco, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests, it doesn’t take long to find areas where forest conditions are dominated by dense stands with thick ladder fuels. The problem with these overcrowded forest conditions, which have also experienced drought conditions in recent years, is large areas of the landscape are left vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate, including large and severe wildfires, and insect and disease outbreaks.

Why do we have these overcrowded conditions? For more than a century, we have suppressed wildfires so effectively that dry forests have become overcrowded with close-canopied forest stands dominated by smaller diameter, young trees. Fire suppression has also led to conifers spreading into aspen stands and historically non-forested areas.  Additionally, timber management practices have evolved over the years and project planning under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) takes forest managers years to complete. The result? The forests are growing faster than we can manage them. If we want to change this, we must do something to reduce fuels in order to move forests toward healthier and more sustainable conditions.  

Forest restoration is critical to achieving a resilient landscape and is one of the three focus areas for the Forest Resiliency Project, along with wildfire management and climate change (the Forest Resiliency Project analysis process is described in February’s blog post).

The Blue Mountains Restoration Strategy Team analyzed forest conditions across the entire Blue Mountains ecoregion as part of the development of the Proposed Action for the Forest Resiliency Project. The information gathered in the analysis helped the planning team compare current conditions on the landscape to the desired conditions of the national forests. The analysis showed that we need to create forest patterns more resilient to wildfire, insects and diseases. The analysis also identified priority areas that are in the greatest need of active restoration management. 

The Proposed Action identifies priority treatment areas across the three national forests that focus on areas where thinning and managed fire could contribute the most to restoring forest health. 

The Proposed Action is currently open for public comment, which is an opportunity to provide the Forest Service input on the proposal. The information received during the comment period will help the planning team design treatments for the project, incorporating site-specific forest data. An example of these treatments could be a combination of mechanical harvest and non-mechanical thinning, with fuel reduction treatments designed to reduce crown densities, followed by prescribed fire to reduce the surface fuels. Proposed treatment locations will consider natural landscape patterns, high value resources (for example, campgrounds, private lands, or sensitive habitats), and climate change projections.

Beyond meeting the ecological needs of the three national forests, this strategy for restoring forest health could also contribute to local communities through increased jobs and supplemental benefits. Treatment designs will provide commercial products, firewood, and employment opportunities for local economies. Any proposed treatments will also be compatible with the Cohesive Wildfire Strategy, particularly focused on the public/private land interface and minimizing the risk of wildfire spreading from national forest lands to private lands.

Do you want to be involved in this project? The Forest Service wants to hear from you! The Proposed Action and treatment area maps are available on the project website, along with instructions for how to comment. The scoping period began on Feb. 5, 2016, and comments on this project are being received until Apr. 5, 2016. 

This is the third of twelve issues of Features from the Blue Mountains Restoration Strategy brought to you by Sustainable Northwest and the U.S. Forest Service Blue Mountains Restoration Strategy Team. This monthly series will highlight the environmental and economic challenges and opportunities present in the Blue Mountains region, and will include updates from the Blue Mountains Forest Resiliency Project.