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Forests on a Diet

Is thinning the panacea to forest ills?

Is thinning the happy ending to the forest wars? After fights over timber harvests came to a head in the 1990s, logging was dramatically reduced and there were pretty hard feelings all around. Eventually, some environmentalist groups and timber communities sat down to talk. Now many agree that forests both east and west of the Cascades need some trees taken out. In the drier east, big concerns are insect infestation and fire. In the moist woods of the west, former clearcuts replanted with a single species of seedlings are now seen as too dense for overall forest heath.

Thinning is part of a forest management approach called stewardship. Collins Company in Lakeview just won a ten year stewardship contract with the US Forest Service. The deal means Collins pays the Forest Service for commercially useable timber it thins from the Fremont National Forest. In turn, the Forest Service uses that money to pay Collins to stabilize roads, remove culverts and clear brush in the same forest. Thinning is not expected to ever generate the income logging did, but as part of this shift of timber practices, Collins invested millions in a mill that could speedily handle logs down to four inches in diameter and is planning a biomass plant to convert forest ?thinnings? into energy. This is only the second ten-year stewardship contract the Forest Service has signed and it’s brought an increased sense of stability to the mill.

But not all thinning is created equal, and not all environmental groups support it. Some timber sales deemed thins by the Forest Service are still contested in court. This trend of forest management has fans in Congress. But even among those environmental and industry groups who are willing to work together now to thin and restore the forests, there are different visions for what our national forests should look like and be used for fifty years from now.

Do you live in a logging community or one that has depended on timber in the past? Have you participated in any community dialogs including environmental groups and industry on forest management? Do you feel we?re at a point now where ?we all can get along? and agree on forest policy - or is the consensus, well, too thin?


Photo credit: Emily Harris

thinning forest logging

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