Loggers are Firefighting HeroesOriginally published September 01, 2021
Originally appeared in The Register-Guard. Shared with permission.
There is nothing more disheartening than being called a hero during fire season and then slandered in the media or overregulated outside of fire emergencies. Firefighters are not just 20-person handcrews, hotshots and smokejumpers. They are also loggers, ranchers, road builders and much more.
Forest contractors are being enlisted by public firefighting agencies to help stop the blazes across the state. In fact, the Oregon Department of Forestry and its federal partners rely heavily on the skilled labor that loggers and other contracted service people provide during fire season.
In a virtual White House briefing on July 30, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kalama Harris met with western governors impacted by devastating wildfires. Gov. Gavin Newsom explained the need for more wildfire fighting assets such as dozer bosses.
But the only way for these fire assets to remain available during fire season is to ensure they can work all year. Year-round work is necessary to support the operating costs of owning and operating heavy equipment and small businesses.
The work completed by these skilled individuals outside of fire season to reduce fuels, restore landscapes, maintain forest access and deliver green building materials aids in the state’s ability to successfully extinguish fires and provides natural climate change solutions. Accelerating the pace and scale of proactive forest management also provides the year-round work necessary to sustain small logging businesses and other forest contactors.
Forest management and fuels reduction is a win-win for Oregon. Any trained forester will tell you that profitable and sustainable timber harvesting generates more funding to improve forest health and provide additional opportunities for non-commercial fuel reduction. But there have been questions about whether or not forest thinning and fuel reduction activities actually reduce fire behavior, such that fires are less intense, less severe, and less impactful in dry, frequent-fire forests.
Most recently on this year’s Bootleg Fire, Pete Caligiuri, the Nature Conservancy’s local forest program director, said on Grist.org that carefully developed forest restoration helped change fire behavior. Where mechanical thinning was combined with prescribed fire, Caligiuri acknowledged, “What we were hearing was that, as the fire moved out of the denser forest into these areas that had been treated, it came down out of the canopy of the trees and dropped to the ground.”
Although emissions result from heavy equipment operations and manufacturing, the mitigated wildfire emissions, carbon stored in wood products and healthier forests that result in increased carbon sequestration potential all contribute to the positive difference the timber industry makes in the fight against climate change.
The complete and coordinated system doesn’t end after the fires burn out. The partnerships and complex supply chains that allow wildfires to be aggressively fought, access to be maintained and carbon storing wood products to continually be supplied to the market does not happen by chance. Loggers and other forest contractors are proud to be a part of the firefighting team, but they need year-round work to keep their businesses viable.
Forest contractors are the firefighters you depend on during fire season and the professional stewards who provide Oregonians with healthy forests and carbon-storing wood products. Let’s ensure these critical firefighting assets remain available for whatever nature throws their way by supporting loggers, being critical of overregulation and preservation mentalities, and acknowledging the work they do within and outside of fire season to maintain vibrant communities and provide all Oregonians with vital wood products.
Amanda Astor is forest policy manager at Associated Oregon Loggers and a monthly contributor to The Register-Guard. She holds degrees in forest management, forest biology, and forest carbon: science, policy and management.