Chief talks with loggers in western Oregon

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U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore spoke Thursday with loggers and others in forestry about forest fires, logging, and sustainability at the 86th  annual Oregon Logging Conference at the Lane County Fairgrounds in Eugene.

The Register-Guard reported that Moore gave the keynote address at the conference before taking questions from attendees, many of whom were critical of the Forest Service’s management of federal forests in Oregon. After his speech, the newspaper questioned the USFS Chief and didn’t get much for answers, which Moore is well known for. Asked about an escaped RxFire last summer east of Eugene, and another over in Grant County that resulted in the arrest and arraignment of FS burn boss Ricky Snodgrass, Moore said he’s confident the agency has the ability to managed prescribed burns.

Referring to the temporary pause in 2022 after the Calf Canyon / Hermits Peak Fire, Moore then said, “If you remember, I called a 90-day pause … And really, it was to do a check on how we were doing prescribed burning, but also to look at what has changed.”

He explained that people are “on different sides of the aisle with climate change,” and that the climate is different today than what it has been. “And because it’s different it’s creating conditions that we have never seen before, particularly as it relates to fire behavior. And so, as we look at the prescribed burning, we do have the ability.”

Regarding the budget, the chief said, “Going in now, of course, you know, we don’t have a budget. The federal government doesn’t have a budget. Our expectation is to have the same level of firefighters we had last year. And so, we’re looking at roughly 11,700 firefighters…. Now, with an uncertainty around budget, could that be potentially compromised? Of course. We also have a housing issue, a mental health issue, with our firefighters. So, all of that plays into whether we’ll be able to recruit and retain firefighters.”

Randy MooreAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack back in June 2021 announced that Randy Moore would serve as the 20th Forest Service Chief. “Randy Moore has been a catalyst for change and creativity in carrying out the Forest Service’s mission to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests,” said Vilsack. A year later in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Moore said the 2022 fire staffing was near 90 percent, but he acknowledged that the agency in some areas was staffed at about 50 percent.

Moore was warning a week ago that the agency faces budget cuts that could affect thousands of employees. He sent an all-employee letter noting that funding gaps will affect salaries and information technology, among other things.

He noted a 5 percent cost of living increase but said it will come out of available funds. He had no details on which part of the agency’s budget will be cut for the new fiscal year, but warned that the USDA is developing budget cut guidelines.

Jack Thomas with Jim Lyons in northeast Oregon's Eagle Cap Wilderness.
Jack Thomas with Jim Lyons in northeast Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness.

Moore was also asked about the planned update to the Northwest Forest Plan, which was developed by Jack Ward Thomas and a small army of experts back in the early 1990s. The comprehensive plan was accompanied by a regional monitoring program and ongoing research, and became a multi-agency effort to conserve biodiversity, especially including old-growth forests, the  northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet, and other species associated with older forests on federal lands in western Washington and Oregon and northwest  California. It was also designed to protect salmon habitat and to provide forest products for timber-dependent economies. The NWFP was envisioned to be a 100-year plan with the flexibility to adapt to new conditions, threats, and knowledge — of which there have been many.

Asked what changes Oregonians might expect in the forthcoming update to the Northwest Forest Plan, Moore said, “I think that’s to be discovered. I think that we need to sit down and have public meetings. We need to look at what are the expectations that our publics are having for their national forests and then how can we provide that within the context of the laws that guide us.”

 

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