Portland, Ore. (KPTV/CNN Newsource) – Driving through the Columbia River Gorge near Eagle Creek, the impact of a 50,000 acre wildfire that scorched a National Scenic Area is clear. What’s less clear is where to go from here.
“We really need to analyze the impacts of the fire, and let’s let science dictate what the best response is,” said Friends of the Columbia River Gorge Conservation Director Michael Lang. “The Gorge is a national scenic treasure–an icon of the northwest.”
Lang and his organization support a careful and deliberate approach to restoring parts of the Gorge damaged by fire.
But a proposal by Congressman Greg Walden is more aggressive.
“We have to change the policy,” Walden said on the House floor recently.
He called for sweeping reforms to the way we manage public forests, including the Gorge.
“Year after year after year after year, we have these catastrophic wildfires on federal lands, some of which have been set aside and managed in a way that they have no management,” Walden said.
The Republican congressman introduce House Resolution 3715, which call for fast-tracked salvage logging in the burned out areas of the Gorge, with the idea of removing burned and damaged trees, then quickly replanting the area afterward.
Walden’s proposal would require no public input or environmental reviews a logging project smaller than 10,000 acres and would prohibit legal action to stop the activity.
Michael Lang said, “Friends of the Columbia Gorge is strongly opposed to this bill. Salvage logging has no place in the Columbia River Gorge at all.
Lang said research has shown salvage logging can actually do more harm than good.
“It increases slope instability, it compacts the soil, it introduces invasive species and it makes a more fire-prone forest,” Lang claimed.
A 2017 study by the Forest Service concluded salvage logging had both little impact on forest recovery and little adverse effect on vegetation. So the debate over the merits of salvage logging is still unsettled.
Walden for one believes more management, salvage logging and commercial thinning will reduce the impact of catastrophic fires.
“If you want to do something that is extraordinarily important, join us in trying to reform how we manage our precious public and our federal forests to reduce the fuel loads,” Walden said.
But Lang said more debate about how to approach the situation in the Gorge would be better than sweeping legislation that could wipe out environmental protections.
“Wouldn’t it be better to have a conversation with all stake-holders and try to find a consensus approach that helps communities, family-owned businesses recover?” Lang asked.
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