WASHINGTON, D.C. — Following up on a request made at the White House to President Obama on Monday to help put Oregonians back to work in the woods, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) asked U.S. Forest Service Chief Gail Kimbell yesterday to develop a set of emergency measures to speed forest management action, consequently improving the health of our forests and economies in rural forested communities. “Never have we needed your leadership more,” Walden wrote in a letter he handed personally to Chief Kimbell yesterday in a meeting on Capitol Hill. “Because the Forest Service is such a pervasive land owner in my district, your management action or inaction in these troubled economic times may make or break countless communities in rural forested Oregon.”
In the letter, Walden details the high unemployment in the Second District he represents — in many areas in the high teens and even over 20 percent in Crook and Harney counties — and the dire state of the health of the national forests. The Winema-Fremont National Forests, for example, is the location of a massive 200,000-acre bug kill that is ripe for catastrophic fire if action is not taken—locals call the 316-square mile area “the red zone.” The Malheur National Forest has a 28-year backlog of forest management work. And growth rates in eastern Oregon’s national forests are nearly ten-times the current harvest rates; nearly 50 percent of “harvest” in these national forests are post, poles, and firewood.
All lead to conditions ripe for catastrophic wildfire that destroy the forests that once provided the sustainable economic lifeblood for rural Oregon communities.
“Something needs to change,” Walden said in the letter. “People in Oregon are resilient, have learned to adapt, but at this point are just holding on. I urge you to develop a set of emergency measures before fire season begins which will direct and empower your forest supervisors to take quick forest management action, consequently improving the health of the forests and economies of our rural forested communities.”
“As chief of the Forest Service with an open line of communication with the President, you sit at the unique intersection of politics and policy and are the key player in delivering the emergency expedited help so badly needed in rural forested Oregon,” Walden wrote to Kimbell.
The text of the letter to Kimbell (which he delivered along with the letter to Obama) is below:
April 01, 2009
Ms. Gail Kimbell
U.S. Forest Service
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, D.C., 20250
Dear Chief Kimbell,
Never have we needed your leadership more. Because the Forest Service is such a pervasive land owner in my district, your management action or inaction in these troubled economic times may make or break countless communities in rural forested Oregon.
Your roots run deep in eastern Oregon and you stay in touch with people in the area. So you may already be aware that without definitive and prompt action from the Forest Service, we risk losing what little forest management infrastructure remains in the region.
On Monday, I personally delivered a letter to President Obama, which I’ve enclosed for you, where I asked for his help in putting Oregonians back to work in the woods. Highlights of that letter include:
• In some areas of Oregon, one in five people are out of work and living next to federal forests with decades of backlogged forest health maintenance work.
• As a result, catastrophic wildfire spews incredible amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, equivalent to four to six percent of the country’s carbon dioxide output from fossil fuel burning.
• About 200 jobs lost from mill closures in eastern Oregon has the same economic impact as 26,400 jobs lost in the Portland metro area, according to the Oregon Employment Department. That means one job lost in eastern Oregon has the same impact as the loss of 125 jobs in the Portland metro area.
As you likely understand, the health of the forests and the health of rural Oregon are, and will always be, inextricably linked. I invite you to the following areas of my district as soon as you are able to take stock of the emergency condition of the forests and economy in rural forested Oregon:
Fremont-Winema National Forests: A mountain pine beetle epidemic has devastated an area over 200,000 acres, or 317 square miles, while the Forest Service has completed only 600 acres of stand treatments with 35,000 acres of prescribed fire. The forest staff and local community members call this area “the red zone.” This overstocked and overstressed area is a catastrophic fire waiting to happen. Meanwhile, unemployment in Klamath and Lake counties is 16.7 and 17.5 percent, respectively.
Malheur National Forest: This forest alone has over 450,000 acres of Class II and III lands (those are lands most susceptible to catastrophic wildfire) and a staggering 28-year maintenance backlog. Unemployment in Grant County is 18 percent.
Wallowa-Whitman/Umatilla/Malheur National Forests: The average annual growth rate on the Malheur, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests is 775 million board feet per year. Mortality equals about 400 million board feet per year and harvest is right at 80 million board feet per year. Nearly 50 percent of the harvest is firewood, post/polls, and chips. Unemployment in the counties covered by these forests are in the high teens; Harney County stands at 20.5 percent, the highest unemployment rate in Oregon. According to the Oregon Employment Department, when timber was being produced, Harney County recorded more than 1,000 manufacturing workers. The industry’s estimated employment is a mere 20 people today.
Russell Hoeflich, the vice president and Oregon director for The Nature Conservancy, testified before a Senate panel on December 13, 2007 that, “In 2007, the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management treated about 188,000 acres in Oregon and 44,000 in Washington. Based on our analysis, over the next 25 years we will need to treat at least 550,000 acres annually in Oregon – more than three times previous levels of treatments.”
Something needs to change. People in Oregon are resilient, have learned to adapt, but at this point are just holding on. I urge you to develop a set of emergency measures before fire season begins which will direct and empower your forest supervisors to take quick forest management action, consequently improving the health of the forests and economies of our rural forested communities. As chief of the Forest Service with an open line of communication with the President, you sit at the unique intersection of politics and policy and are the key player in delivering the emergency expedited help so badly needed in rural forested Oregon.
Thank you for your dedication to our nation’s forests and rural communities. I stand ready to assist you.
Member of Congress
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