Editorial: Central Oregon forests ripe for the wrong things

Suppose you wanted to improve the health of the national forests in Central Oregon.

You’d have to do things differently.

The federal government has produced a lot of reforms that have vowed to do things differently.

In 2000, there was the National Fire Plan. That was supposed to better coordinate firefighting resources and reduce dangerous fuels. It probably helped.

Then there was the Healthy Forest Initiative of 2002. That was supposed to reduce the time and paperwork so important projects could be completed more quickly. It probably helped, too.

Then there was the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003. That was supposed to empower speedier reviews of forest projects. It helped, too.

But now in 2014, the U.S. Forest Service readily admits that much of the forestland in this area is ripe for a dangerous trio: insect infestation, disease and wildfire.

In fact, at the request of Gov. John Kitzhaber, the Forest Service has given those areas a special designation as being especially bad.

These designations are supposed to mean that smaller projects in these areas can go through environmental reviews more swiftly. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

It would apply to projects up to 3,000 acres. A full environmental assessment does not have to be performed. The change doesn’t make any additional money available. There aren’t any projects that suddenly can move forward now.

About 25,000 acres of the Deschutes National Forest are treated each year, through thinning, piling, mowing and burning. It’s one of the most actively managed forests in the nation. To the credit of the Deschutes, the employees work hard to collaborate with the community to ensure it understands things like why prescribed burns are valuable tools.

The Forest Service focuses its treatment work on areas of the greatest risk nearest to where people live. That’s the right priority.

But what was true years ago is true today. Despite all those reforms and treatments, forests in Central Oregon are ripe for a deadly trio of insect infestation, disease and wildfire.