Front and Center: Biden Wildfire Scorecard No. 1

Front and Center: Biden Wildfire Scorecard No. 1

The Biden Administration lost no time implementing the big pieces of its promised climate change initiative. It’s much too early to know what impact these policies will have on the West’s wildfire pandemic but the early news suggests that the anti-forestry crowd has the ear of policy makers who believe that logging is to blame for our pandemic.

Robert Bonnie knows this isn’t true.

Bonnie is the Biden Administration’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy and Senior Advisor on Climate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He held similar positions during the Obama years. We had the pleasure of hearing him speak at a February 2015 luncheon in Boise, Idaho sponsored by the Idaho Forest Restoration Partnership.

IFRP functions as a coalition of forest collaborative groups that help the Forest Service design and monitor forest restoration projects in Idaho’s national forests. I keynoted their 2018 annual meeting in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. You can read my speech and see its associated artwork here. And you can learn more about IFRP here.

It isn’t difficult to understand why the Biden Administration chose Bonnie. He’s bright guy blessed with a soft-spoken persona that draws people to him. I think he is quite capable of bridging the cultural chasm that distances rural America’s farm and forest communities from our nation’s urban and metropolitan consumers.

During the Trump years, he worked at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. While at Duke – a university with deep roots in forestry - he was a member of the Institute’s steering committee that developed the non-partisan Climate 21 Project here I suggest you carefully study this report.

We know Bonnie to be a serious supporter of collaborative forest restoration projects developed by diverse stakeholder groups representing the millions of Americans who find joy, solace and work in our national forests. There are hundreds of these all-volunteer groups scattered around the West today. Their roots are in northern California’s Quincy Library Group and southern Oregon’s Applegate Partnership. QLC closed up shop several years ago but the Applegate Partnership is still engaged.

Forest collaborative groups generally rely on two time-honored tools for corralling insects and diseases that are fueling the West’s wildfire meltdown: thinning and prescribed fire – thinning to remove trees from forests that hold too many trees for the natural carrying capacity of the land and small fires that clean up excess debris, providing growing space for residual trees.

There isn’t anything magical about these techniques, but they are safe, reliable and effective. And the visual results are spectacular. It is from this perspective that we offer these suggestions that Bonnie has no doubt heard hundreds of times from collaborative partners.

  • To increase the pace and scale of restoration work dump the silly acreage limits Congress has imposed on the size of collaborative forest restoration projects.
  • Bullet-proof collaboratively developed forest restoration projects from anti-forestry serial litigators who enrich themselves at taxpayer expense by contesting these projects in federal courts that are tasked with deciphering conflicting laws, policies and rules.
  • Because the anti-forestry crowd refuses to collaborate, arbitration offers the only workable solution. You bring your best forest restoration idea and we’ll bring ours and we’ll allow arbitration judges to decide which plans best meet public sensibilities and environmental laws aimed at protecting forests, species, the air we breathe and the water we drink.

Nature paints with a big brush – watersheds spanning hundreds of thousands of mountainous acres that are drained by rivers and streams on which all lifeforms depend. Forests that blanket these mountains act like sponges, regulating water flows into rivers, streams, lakes, aquifers and reservoirs that are the West’s major sources of municipal water.

The searing heat that wildfires generate destroys the spongy organic layer in which all seeds germinate and water is held. It takes decades for this layer to rebuild itself. Meantime, flooding, soil erosion and landslides rule our watersheds.

Fire-killed trees can only store the carbon that remains in their burnt hulks. Live trees store carbon in their roots, leaves, needles and stems. As trees age they store carbon at slower rates. Carbon stored in wood – building products – can be held for hundreds of years. Repurposed wood - used in beams, wall panels and countertops - stores carbon indefinitely.

We no longer harvest “old growth” trees from national forests. But nature doesn’t give a damn how young or old trees are when they burn. The best way to extend the lives of older trees is to remove nearby dying and dead trees that are the primary sources of fuel for killing wildfires.

We know how to do this work. Science, technology and human ingenuity have always been our best tools. Why aren’t we using them? Why aren’t we restoring our national forests at the same pace and scale that wildfires are destroying them?

We wish Robert Bonnie the very best in his search for answers.

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