When it comes to debating the benefits of utilizing small-diameter trees, Sue Kupillas has been through the mill.
For the past five years, the senior member of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners cornered and cajoled anyone who would listen about harvesting small trees to reduce the threat of catastrophic fire, create healthier forests and give the local economy a boost.
“It should have been non- controversial,” she said. “But it wasnt. Even after all the fires (in 2002), we havent been able to do the sales. Politically, it hasnt been possible.
“We need to have environmental groups getting behind this,” she added. “But when you talk about the enormous amount we need to remove to reduce fire danger, the support isnt there.”
She created an informal think tank on small-diameter tree utilization in 1999. That group, which worked with federal agencies to estimate how much small-log harvest is available on local federal forests, continues to discuss the potential of harvesting small-diameter trees.
“It grows every year,” Kupillas said. “There is enough small-diameter material out there to last forever.”
She blames hard-line environmental activists for throwing a wrench in the works.
“Its been so frustrating,” she said. “A lot of people have spent a lot of time studying this. We thought this would bring a new industry that was good for the environment and reduce the fire danger out there.
“But there is a disconnect in logic,” she added. “There was no movement on the side of the environmentalists.”
Environmentalists disagree, countering they also concede there are plenty of areas where small trees should be thinned.
But theyre concerned that thinning projects too often are used as excuses to log old-growth trees on federal land.
“I was never trying to sell a program for logging,” Kupillas said, describing herself as a moderate. “People need to understand this was not the big timber industry trying to do this.”
Rather, she said it was local people with no ax to grind looking for a way to improve forest health and the local economy while reducing the threat of summer wildfires.
“To get this done, we have to get broad-based community support that is organized,” she said. “And we need an education program that shows what happens when you leave overstocked forests alone. Leaving it alone has much more catastrophic consequences than thinning small-diameter material.”