MOMENTUM SWINGING TOWARDS FOREST THINNING

August 28, 2002 12:00 am

Environmental groups should be put on notice. A huge wave of bipartisan support is growing toward an aggressive program of thinning of the national forests in the region to help thwart or prevent devastating fires. And groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council should get on board so they can have input on how the program will work.

THIS SUMMER'S fires, which ravaged just about every corner of Oregon, have created a backdrop of support for logging to thin forests of materials that cause blazes to spread rapidly. In many cases, thinning can be done without disturbing old-growth timber.

President Bush, in his visit to Oregon last week, pledged support for more logging in national forests to help prevent fires.

But the president is not the only force in politics calling for a more intensive thinning of forests to reduce the danger. Here's a sample of the others:

• Western lawmakers, led by U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, are drawing up legislation to speed cutting of overgrown forests. Craig and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., appeared at a press conference earlier this month pledging to work to reduce the fire risk in the forests.

• Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has led a Western Governors' Association effort to address wildfire threats across the West. The governors' plan to increase thinning has drawn support from Bush.

• A WILDFIRE POLICY, being drafted by Sen. Craig's staff, would identify 30 million acres of Western forests that need attention. The policy might have language similar to that which was devised by Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., for his state to prevent thinning projects from being held up by appeals and lawsuits.

The massive Biscuit Fire in southwest Oregon and the summer's other fires in our state and in the West point to the need to stop talking about developing an aggressive forest thinning policy. Despite environmentalists' objections to logging, it's time for action. Bush would do the fire-prone states a big favor by coming up with a plan to fund the program.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

What are your ideas about thinning of forests as a way to help prevent future catastrophic fires? Can logging be done in such a way that that greatly reduces the fire risk while still speaking to the need of protecting the forest ecosystem?

Jot down your ideas in a letter to The Observer. E-mail, fax or mail your comments to us. Time is wasting. An aggressive, workable forest thinning policy is needed soon.