Put the Gifford Pinchot in the Hands of Professionals

Note: Another commentary regarding our forests worthy of posting at SOS Forests: Frank Backus of Bingen, WA, is a 38-year professional forester who has spent most of his career working in and around the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. He works as chief forester for SDS Lumber Co.

by Frank Backus, opinion in the Clark County Columbian, August 31, 2023 [here]

The Cold Springs Fire in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest has cost taxpayers $11 million to date, destroyed 8,000 acres of varying habitats, including irreplaceable legacy ponderosa pines, wildlife and riparian habitat. State- and private-managed timber damage is yet to be determined but is substantial. There’s got to be a better way.

The original forest-planning effort that culminated in the 1990 Gifford Pinchot Forest Plan involved local people and professional resource managers from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The plan was constructed by people who knew the forest and its needs. It balanced timber production and the local economy with wildlife habitat, stream protection and recognized differing ecosystems.

The ink was barely dry on the plan when environmental appeals and lawsuits hammered local Forest Service land managers. The northern spotted owl became a major litigation and political weapon forcing common sense and professional land managers to the sidelines.

President Clinton’s well-intended 1993 forestry summit brought together renowned specialists who were cloistered in downtown Portland and told to write a plan for Pacific Northwest forests over a few short weeks. The results were unfortunately predictable, and, for the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, enormously harmful.

The Gifford Pinchot Forest spans the Cascade Range, north of the Columbia River Gorge and contains a host of ecosystems. The forest borders on the west are in sight of Vancouver and Portland with typical Western Washington forests. The eastern border of the forest is a completely different environment, typified by dry forests, ponderosa pine, grasslands and the like. No other Pacific Northwest national forest has such a widely varying environment, a situation recognized by local land managers but not “experts” locked in a room.

The unavoidable consequence is that the experts who developed and assigned land use designations created habitat designations and requirements that could not be maintained on large portions of the Gifford Pinchot forest. In today’s language, they were — and are — unsustainable.

‘Too aggressive,’ ‘too vast’

Large swaths of the eastern Gifford Pinchot National Forest are designated as spotted owl habitat. Thousands of acres of this habitat is old growth ponderosa pine forest that is now overstocked with white fir that are growing in areas where they cannot survive long-term. Insects predictably invaded the white fir, killing large areas of trees, creating equally large areas of extreme fire hazard. Adjacent landowners hosted the same dynamics but aggressively dealt with the problems as they arose.

Gifford Pinchot forest managers also recognized what was happening and proposed projects over the years, only to have them criticized as, “too aggressive,” “too vast,” “without foundation.” In fact, the proposals were too little, too late but would have helped avoid what we have today: 8,000 acres of scorched habitat adjacent to vast areas of dead trees just waiting to burn. Federal land managers retreated from doing anything other than mostly cosmetic treatments.

This is what happens when local land management professionals are replaced by theoreticians locked in a room with other governmental agencies, which have no responsibility for the consequences of their decisions. It will continue to happen until experienced local land managers are returned to manage the forest.

So, while we argue over commas and periods in multipound environmental impact statements, and while we spend millions of dollars in arcane court battles, we will continue to spend billions of dollars to watch our forests burn. We will continue to watch gracious old ponderosa pines needlessly torched and watersheds immolated by fire.

The solution is simple: Remove politicians, courts and environmentalists from federal land management and return it to professional federal land managers. Charge our land managers with properly managing our forests and hold them responsible for doing so.

They won’t solve the problems overnight, but there is no time like the present to begin the journey. It’s time we started.

1 Sep 2008, 8:14am
by bear bait


This is a wonderful story of what needs to be done, phrased in language that will not offend. I, on the other hand, am not restrained by the professional and public obligations to temper my words.

The USFS has been purged of knowledge, and is now a reservation for political agendas and hocus pocus science derived from results needy money. What we get is what is bought and paid for by a political agenda from the Congress, which appropriates money for research, directed research. The NGOs of the Environmental Oligarchy raise money to further their agenda with results based science. Then the results based science is used to alter or terminate known, productive forest activity. I was amused to see that FUSEE is a big part of the effort to totally shut down any logging and tree removal from California public lands, and to essentially have the final word on any forest activity that occurs on private lands. My amusement is how these organizations that are titled in such a way as to direct your impressions in one way while their work is a polar opposite. But, I guess when your politics are as nasty as a viper’s, you must use camouflage to hide behind before you strike. And that is by intent. The Monkey Wrench Gang model.

The GP is just another social engineering venture that has not worked to preserve or enhance the wildlands it was formed to protect. That it allows that benign neglect to wash over onto private lands, and Reservation lands, to great negative economic and environmental results should be looked upon as criminal. Maybe with regime change in the Chief’s Office, now that it is a position of political patronage, will bring about some common sense in the agency, or, the turn to wanton waste will be sharper and will impact more people, to the point where the thinking public will say “enough!!!” and rise up to reclaim the public lands from the single interest preservationists intent of keeping the public in town unless they pay them in treasure and fealty to obtain special use permits, on a limited basis.

1 Sep 2008, 8:58am
by Mike


Frank makes some good points, but he may have missed an important fact regarding the Cold Springs Fire.

Which is that the Central OR Type 2 IMT jumped all over it and put it out in 2 days. It was nearly 7,000 acres when they got there, and they contained it at a little less than 8,000, in Columbia Gorge winds on Red Flag days. The Cold Springs Fire was one of the few bright spots in this firefighting season.

In California NFs the fires were allowed to burn and burn and burn for months, and indeed the burning was abetted by massive backburning with flares, drip torches, and napalm balls dropped from helicopters. Nearly 1,000 square miles of northwestern CA forests were deliberately incinerated, most of it habitat for the endangered spotted owl.

In Nevada, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming they don’t fight fires, they watch them. The USFS has determined that forests in those states are so ratty and worthless (after 100 years of USFS management) that they should be burned to the ground.

The GP, for all it’s faults, hasn’t yet made total incineration their goal. The same cannot be said, sadly, for the national forests of Eastern Oregon. And SW Oregon NFs are on the bubble; they can’t decide yet if they wish to burn the holy mother jumpers out of the public forests there or not.

Eastern WA NFs have imbibed the KoolAid and are hot to trot for total forest incineration as a matter of avowed policy. It’s illegal, and insane, but the management goal of most national forests these days is total blitzkrieg destruction via holocaust. That’s what they do and all that they do. Burn Baby Burn.

The Gifford Pinchot is not quite there yet. They are peering into the insane asylum but have not yet committed themselves.

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