Collaborative Forestry in the Pacific Northwest
Above: Tree marked for protection.
Wildfire is an existential crisis facing some of our most cherished landscapes – the forests that provide refuge across dry, western landscapes.
Over the past 150 years, mismanagement (overharvesting, intensive livestock grazing, fire suppression, and exclusion of Indigenous cultural burning) has tipped these ecosystems dangerously out of balance.
Today, dry, frequent-fire forests are full of smaller trees and ground fuels. Coupled with rising temperatures, extreme weather events, and increased drought, this is a recipe for megafires.
The path to forest restoration involves preserving as much old growth as possible, creating the conditions to develop older forests where none exist, and forest thinning to allow prescribed fire to restart the historic fire cycle.
To understand what real restoration is, we look to peer-reviewed scientific research published in reputable journals, insights shared by Indigenous peoples who have managed these lands for millennia, and lessons learned on the ground from land management practitioners and other restoration projects. In other words we collaborate with the many people who share the concern about long-term forest health. Where possible, we develop “zones of agreement” on what real restoration is, and which reflect input from as many collaborative members as possible.
There is no management that will “fire-proof” our forests. Large wildfires are a part of our future, but appropriate management can improve their resilience and improve the chance that forest cover will persist after the fire passes.
There is widespread agreement that action is required. In 2021 Congress passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law which allocated over $5 billion to the Forest Service, largely for improving their response to wildfire. But not all “fuels reduction” or “restoration” is created equal. Our role is to be a part of the conversation on how that money gets spent, speaking up for wildlife, salmon, and old growth forests at every turn.
To learn more:
- 12-minute video by the Nature Conservancy about how their experimental thinning and prescribed fire treatments actually saved forests in the 400,000+ acre Bootleg fire.
- 12-minute video by the Karuk Tribe about their view of cultural burning, and a taste of the kind of Indigenous wisdom we endeavor to listen to when forming our own perspectives.
- 4-minute video about Karuk Tribal women reclaiming their traditional burning practices in a modern context. From the Washington Post.
- 14-minute TEDx talk by Dr. Paul Hessburg, “Why wildfires have gotten worse, and what we can do about it.”