Our national forests are in appallingly poor health. An estimated 39 million acres are at risk to catastrophic wildfire and another six million are dead and dying from insect infestation. Fish and wildlife habitat, water quality, recreational opportunities, and the commercial value of the timber could all be wiped out with a single stray spark.
Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are spent every year on federal forest stewardship, but according to a new study, we are getting anything but healthy forests. The color photographs and accompanying stories in this report paint a vivid picture of forests stoked with dead trees and dense undergrowth. It is the second in a series on public lands by Holly Lippke Fretwell of PERC.
U.S. Forest Service Chief Michael Dombeck says he wants to restore forest health and shift away from timber harvesting. What he fails to acknowledge is that harvesting along with thinning, and prescribed burns are exactly what our mismanaged forests need--even according to his agency's own scientists.
In contrast, many state and private forests are healthy and vigorous, able to generate timber revenues while also benefitting wildlife, protecting water quality, and responding to the growing demand for recreation. What do these managers know that the Forest Service does not? With the right incentives, fiscal accountability and forest health are both possible.
Our national forests need new management; there can be no question about that. If forest managers were freed from burdensome regulations and forced to pay their own costs, they could create new revenue opportunities that are compatible with forest health. Among the possibilities are selective harvests, fee-based recreational programs, and competitive bidding for forest uses that would include preserving trees instead of harvesting them.