By Nick Smith
Wildfires are devastating my home state of Oregon as I write this column for TimberWest Magazine. A million acres have burned, several towns have been devastated, and several more are on the brink. Lives and homes have been lost. Businesses have been destroyed, many of them small and family-owned logging companies. And the loss of our natural resources, including timber, water resources, and wildlife habitat, has yet to be measured. For many of us, our lives will never be the same.
During this time, we have seen and heard incredible stories of courage and kindness. Neighbors are helping neighbors, and men and women in our industry are putting their lives on the line to protect their communities as well as the forests they’ve spent their careers managing. We thank the firefighters and first responders for their bravery and tireless efforts.
By the time you read this column, you will be preparing to vote for the next President of the United States, the U.S. Congress, your state legislatures, and offices across all levels of government. If you’re frustrated like I am, there is no better outlet than to support those candidates who support you, and to replace those who are failing to protect your community, your local forests, and your livelihood. This is the only time every two years that elected officials answer to you, and it is your most important opportunity to send a message to the decisionmakers.
Previous columns in this magazine have described the mismanagement of our public forests. The lack of logging, thinning, and burning has resulted in dangerous conditions on the ground, a major factor that is contributing to the massive wildfires we’re now experiencing. For decades we have warned elected officials that our federal forests would burn if they failed to act. Some have listened, including retiring Congressman Greg Walden who worked throughout his career to provide our federal agencies relief from the litigation and obstruction that continues to stymie active management. But others have not, and it is time to hold those elected officials accountable.
On privately owned forests, politicians are making it more difficult for you to manage your own lands and harvest, transport, and manufacture the wood products that meet the everyday needs of our society. It is sad that many of our privately owned timberlands have been wiped out by the fires that gained intensity on adjacent and overstocked federal lands.
When it comes to legislation that hurts our industry, politicians will often justify their decisions by claiming they are “following the science” or “listening to the experts,” even though neither they nor “the experts” seldom spend as much time in the woods as those who work and depend on the health, sustainability, and productivity of our forests and resources. It is time for these politicians to hear your voice.
If decisions affecting our industry and our working lands were truly based in science, wildfires would not be tearing through our public forests with such intensity. If decisions were based on the opinions of real experts, our industry would be meeting all of our nation’s demand for wood products. We would not be importing wood products from other countries that lack the expertise and technology of our domestic industry, and who do not operate — voluntarily — under strict forest practices.
Yet policy decisions are often not based in science, they are based in politics. Let’s face it, politicians only respond to issues and interests that affect their ability to gain — or remain in — office. They respond to the small, yet vocal, minority of anti-forestry activists who flood their offices with phone calls and emails, who show up to the town halls and agitate until they get their way. Most of the men and women in our industry prefer to stay away from politics and focus on their jobs and supporting their families. Such indifference and apathy comes at a cost.
As #TimberUnity has shown, we are most effective when we choose to leave the woods, and our jobs, to participate in the process and make our voices heard. But in most cases, the decisions have already been made once the election is over and the winner is enabled to implement his or her agenda. The upcoming election is your chance to shape the agenda in Washington D.C. and your state capital.
Once again, this is the only time the politicians ever truly answer to you. Ask them where they stand on the issues that matter to you. Do not settle for their polished and poll-tested talking points. Challenge them to explain their positions, and what they are actually going to do to accomplish your priorities and meet your needs. Then tell politicians you will hold them accountable if they fail to deliver on their promises.
Your vote is your voice. Use it, and encourage your family, friends, and neighbors to do the same. VOTE! — like your community, forests, and your livelihood all depend on it.
Nick Smith is Executive Director of Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities (healthyforests.org) and provides public affairs services to the American Forest Resource Council in Portland, Oregon.
On the Cover
JEM Forestry's and its Link-Belt and John Deere combo at work in the woods
Fourth-Generation Logger Chases Dream
Justin Everhart had always dreamed of striking it out on his own, and that’s just what he did.
Dream to Realty — One Step at a Time
Jim Gahlsdorf, president of Gahlsdorf Logging Inc., knows that overcoming the challenges of owning and growing a business depends upon the ability to embrace change.
After the Fire
On November 8, 2108, the world changed for Jenny Lowrey and her family as the forests of Butte County, California, exploded into flames.
It’s All About Solutions
John Boak credits his success to the philosophy — life is not about problems, it’s about solutions.
A look at the wide variety of forwarders on the market.
New Technology on the fire line.
Vote: Your community, forests and livelihood depend on it