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The crisis growing in our forests

It was shocking to learn this week, through a U.S. Forest Service news release, that the Southern Sierra Nevada has a dead-tree count of some 66 million.

The consensus among foresters is that the dead trees must be removed. As they are, the trees are fuel for potential forest fires and breeding grounds for tree-destroying insects, such as the bark beetle.

Last fall, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency because of the tree die-off, and the Forest Service has thrown $32 million into dead-tree removal.

That seems like a lot of money — and it is — but it has led to the felling of only 77,000 trees. Many more, about 1,000 times that many, need to be taken out.

“Tree dies-offs of this magnitude are unprecedented and increase the risk of catastrophic wildfires that put property and lives at risk,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in the news release.

“While the fire risk is currently the most extreme in California because of the tree mortality, forests across the country are at risk of wildfire and urgently need restoration, requiring a massive effort to remove this tinder and improve their health. Unfortunately, unless Congress acts now to address how we pay for firefighting, the Forest Service will not have the resources necessary to address the forest die-off and restore our forests.”

Vilsack is saying that unless we begin to manage our public forests for the benefit of the public, things will get a lot worse.

But he’s leaving something out, which is that the Forest Service might be able to solve much of its problem by auctioning off the dead trees to private loggers, who could fell them, haul them off and salvage some usable lumber from them.

Then the Forest Service could concentrate on replanting and managing future cuts for maximum value rather than leaving them as fuel for forest fires of the future.

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