SPOKANE, Wash. - As fires tear through thousands of acres in the northwest and unhealthy smoke invades our towns, some say there is a solution.
A local logging company says fires are burning out of control because our forests have been improperly managed for decades. Fires are pushing unhealthy smoke into Spokane from fires burning in Oregon, Montana and British Columbia.
Vaagen Brothers Lumber says the unhealthy smoke is a result of improperly taking care of our forests.
"The fuel loads that we have on the floors now are not what mother nature intended," said Kurtis Vaagen.
The company says our forests are too thick because of strict logging guidelines set forth in the 1970's by the National Environmental Policy Act.
"The less restrictive that we are out on the national forests, the more thinning that can be done to lower the intensity of these fires," Vaagen said.
They say it can take years for logging projects in our national forests to be approved, and by then it's too late. So, they are working with local environmental groups, like the Spokane Lands Council, to advocate for better management of our forests. They would like to see the approval process streamlined, allowing them to more easily thin out our forests.
"When you're talking about thinning, we're trying to thin from below and taking out the small diameters, leaving a healthy forest, so that when a fire comes through, it's rolling on the ground and the larger diameter trees are saved in these kind of fires," said Vaagen.
Through removing smaller trees and bushes, known as ladder fuels, they say fires can follow their natural course.
"Fire does a good thing if it meanders through the forest floor and doesn't have the mortality. But, when it gets up in the canopy and rolls on top of each other, then it kills everything in its path," Vaagen said.
When fires burn through the canopies, that's when we get the thick, unhealthy smoke we're seeing now in Spokane.
Some argue that once a wildfire is burning hot, it will destroy everything in its path anyway, and thinning out our forests won't help. But, even environmentalists agree forest thinning can help stop fires from ever getting to that point in the first place.
"It in turn does the restoration projects for the national forests and makes the forests healthier," Vaagen said.
Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers has introduced policy advocating for more responsible management of our national forests. The FORESTS Act of 2017 includes incentives for responsible forest management. That bill is now working its way through the House of Representatives.
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