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Guest Opinion: Bill Kluting

Healthy forests would be good for the environment

Bill Kluting

Bill Kluting

December 23, 2013

Oregon 2013 forest fires totaled 1,175 fires burning more than 105,000 acres. Using Forest Carbon and Emissions Model estimates, these fires released 6 million tons of greenhouse gases, mainly CO2, from combustion into the atmosphere.

A large percent of these emissions can enter the human lung as "particulate matter," which causes health disorders. Combustion is only part of the story because dead trees also gradually release CO2 as they decay. CO2 emissions from decay are generally three times greater than emissions from combustion. Combining combustion and decay emissions studies show that a staggering 26 million tons of greenhouse gases will be released into the atmosphere over the next few decades, comparable to adding another 4 million cars running around the clock for a full year.

To offset these fires emissions in 2013, one-half of the cars in Oregon would have to be locked in the garage for a full year. Many other compounds are part of these emissions from forest fires: carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ammonium, formaldehyde, methanol and air borne lead and mercury are a few.

How can we reduce these greenhouse gases? By removing some of the burnt dead trees and making lumber products, which stores carbon, would reduce CO2 emissions by 15 percent. Replanting these burnt national forest and wilderness areas immediately after wildfires could raise the reduction of CO2 emissions to more than 40 percent.

Congress needs to pass laws that the burnt national forest and wilderness lands need to be treated and replanted as soon as the soils cool. The courts need to follow these new laws.

Let's look at the future. The U.S. Forest Service moves slowly but carefully when planning for healthier forests, resulting in less wildfire, as it did around the Crater Lake area. The agency proposed a plan to commercial and non-commercial thinning of close to 5,000 acres. Oregon Wild and the Cascadia Wildlands groups immediately appealed this. This area is full of diseased, overcrowded and dead trees that once a fire starts, there will be no stopping it and it could and will spread into Crater Lake National Park.

Past history shows that the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have problems responding to wildfires due to all the federal government regulations and the different agencies involved. Delays in stopping any fires in these areas could spread into and destroy tens of thousands of acres in the park itself, where there are limited capabilities to fight and control fires. What I don't want to see is a beautiful blue lake covered with ash and surrounded by a black charred forest.

If these fires take place and burn 10,000 acres, greenhouse gas emissions would be 60 million tons; 20,000 acres would be 120 million tons released in the air we breathe. And don't forget the millions of pounds of particulate matter that can enter our lungs. Once these charred materials start to decay further, CO2 emissions would total three times the figures listed above. You are also looking at total destruction of wildlife habitat and watersheds that we depend on.

I'm asking you to urge the federal courts to ignore these appeals by Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands and other groups that file these appeals. Just a reminder, most all these groups' legal fees are paid with our U.S. tax dollars, so their attorneys get rich while the health of our national forests suffer. Urge the U.S. Forest Service to continue and carry out planning to keep our national forests in a healthy condition.

Bill J. Kluting is a resident of Monmouth.