Introductory voice: Western forests have undergone
extensive alterations over the past century due to fire exclusion, past timber harvests
and livestock grazing. A concerted effort is needed to restore the health of our forests.
Voice of Forest Service Research Landscape Ecologist Paul Hessburg: If we were to go
back to say 1800, and let’s say we were able to fly over the Okanogan-Wenatchee forest
at 30,000 feet, and if you were able to take a video camera and fly over at that same elevation
year after year after year, you’d see that the topography, the mountains topography,
and the patterns of previously burned and recovering vegetation limited the spread of
wildfire. That 1800-era landscape didn’t have much in the way of a transportation system,
either roads or railroads and probably the first big way the landscape became fragmented
was by transportation network. Fire used to burn through grass and shrub fuels, for example,
pretty quickly across the landscape and when we had roads and rails across the landscape
that interrupted the flow of fire. Then after that a couple of other things started becoming
important. 1930s and 40s we start getting good at putting fires out and one final thing,
selective logging was really important, primarily that favored taking the larger diameter trees.
These are the fire tolerant species as well; they had the thick bark and resisted fire
really well. So we started to reduce the fire tolerance of the landscape by pulling those
out. Voice of Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest
Supervisor Becki Heath: The mission of the Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity
and productivity of the nation’s national forests and grasslands to meet the needs of
present and future generations. Voice of Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest
Deputy Fire Staff Officer Richy Harrod: The problem of needing to do restoration in forests
is large, and we are focused here in the eastern Cascades, but if you look across the west
the problem is huge. Plants and animals have different strategies for how they respond
to fire. For example, a ponderosa pine tree is a good one to use; it has a thick bark
that protects the growing material underneath. They have these various morphological strategies,
and then some have other sorts of life history strategies. For example, some plants have
seeds that store in the soil for a long time and then they only germinate once a fire comes
by. Voice of Paul Hessburg: There are literally
dozens of native forest pathogens that cause disease in the forest and insects that cause
mostly mortality effects, either by chewing up foliage or by directly attacking stems
and killing them by girdling them. Voice of Richy Harrod: Many of these forests
that have been modified by fire exclusion or an insect and disease don’t provide some
recreational opportunities. Voice of Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest
Wildlife Ecologist Bill Gaines: There have been significant changes to habitat for wildlife.
A couple of the different groups of wildlife species that we think about are those that
are associated with the old ponderosa pine forest. Those open forests have decreased
significantly over what was available historically. Conversely, as a result of fire exclusion,
some habitats have increased over time. Probably another component of the issue surrounding
wildlife and fish species is that we inherited a road network that has been in place for
many, many years. That road network can cause damage to resources like streams, including
the addition of sediment into streams, so that’s another concern or another issue
surrounding management of these forests. Voice of Paul Hessburg: There’s a fair amount
of uncertainty about the climate, but there are a few things that we know and that should
empower us to act in our management. The climate is changing. It’s getting warmer and it
may be getting dryer. And I would say, as a result of those sorts of things things,
what we want to do is give the forest and its resources, and the people who appreciate
them, options for a changing climate. Voice of Becki Heath: So, our restoration
treatments are all about ensuring that those forested ecosystems are resilient over time. It’s critical that we have an integrated
approach to how we accomplish restoration
on the land. So, the way we get a lot of our planning done is through the use of an interdisciplinary
planning team. And that team of specialists comes together with a goal in mind of restoration,
but with each of them having their area of specialty. So people who use the forests are
generally incredibly well educated about how to use the forest in a way to ensure that
it’s sustainable. So people love living in the woods. As private land gets developed
closer and closer to the national forest, that intersection, that boundary, we call
that the wildland urban interface. Voice of Ross Frank, private timber land owner:
People who are invested in family forests are preserving open space. They are preserving
habitat, and they are preserving the values that the American public, over time, have
identified as very important. Voice of Becki Heath: And it’s an area that
we put a high priority on for treating fuels and for doing our best to ensure that we can
control fires at that boundary. We often don’t have that opportunity.
Voice of Ross Frank: In our particular case, we started as a grassroots neighborhood group
working to educate ourselves and our neighbors as to the dry forest ecology and fire ecology.
And then we’ve worked with the Forest Service as an immediate neighbor in creating sustainable
landscape. Voice of Becki Heath: So some of the changes
that I think are incredibly productive are the way that we work with partners, and not
only public and NGO (non-government organization) kinds of partners, but agencies in collaboration
where we gain a common vision of what national forest needs to look like.
Voice of Molly Ingraham, The Nature Conservancy: The Tapash Collaborative is a group of federal,
state and nonprofit organizations. And the Forest Service, the Yakama Nation, the Nature
Conservancy and the Washington Department of Natural Resources and the Washington Department
of Fish and Wildlife have come together to think about how do you manage across boundaries.
And there’s really three core concepts to Tapash and that is, how do we use the best
science to guide our restoration activities, how do we protect the most critical and at
risk lands, and then also how do we build and support infrastructure in the area in
order to ensure that there can be a restoration-based economy that functions.
Voice of Becki Heath: So, the restoration strategy focuses on ensuring that our treatments
will lead to resiliency in those natural systems. And resiliency is going to look different
in different places. Voice of Bill Gaines: I think a resilient
landscape can provide healthy forest to recreate in; healthy streams and watersheds that provide
high quality water and a quantity of water, healthy wildlife habitats that are more in
tune with the natural disturbance processes instead of what we see now.
Voice of Paul Hessburg: So getting the patterns of the forest reconnected in a good way with
the processes is an overarching vision that I would ascribe to. So a forest that’s healthy,
and it looks well, and its functioning well is deeply important to the American people.
Voice of Bill Gaines: So one way of providing or mitigating the impact of climate change
is to make sure those habitats are connected well enough to where those species can move
around and adjust their life to a change in climate. Voice of Richy Harrod: As we implement these restoration treatments it’s really important
for us to monitor our activities. There are a number of things that we don’t know about
how these systems will respond to our treatments. And so it’s important for us to go out there
and actually measure the results of those activities for the long term. [voice: No one hour
fuels.] It’s important that we treat as many acres as we possibly can.
Voice of Becki Heath: We have some of the finest scientists in the nation when it comes
to natural resource management and they are all up to it. They are at the top of their
game; they know what it means to respond to new science and are excited about applying that
on the ground and seeing the effects of it.