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Pioneer Editorial: Wildfires underscore policy need

This week's ongoing horrific wildfires in California underscore the drastic need for a national forest policy designed to enhance and preserve our national treasures.

The wildfire 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles has the nation's attention. It not only destroyed or threatens more than 100,00 acres but also threatens to cut off broadcast communications to the Southland as fire laps around communications towers. It also threatens historic sites, such as the Mount Wilson Observatory.

The fire so far has also claimed two lives.

Another key factor is that the brush has had more then 40 years to grow without the benefit of wildfire suppression efforts such as sustainable timber harvests and prescribed burns. It appears such forest management isn't lost on new U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who last month outlined his vision for the U.S. Forest Service.

"Our nation's forestlands, both public and private, are environmental and economic assets that are in critical need of restoration and conservation," said Vilsack. "By using a collaborative management approach with a heavy focus on restoring these natural resources, we can make our forests more resilient to climate change, protect water resources, and improve forest health while creating jobs and opportunities."

Climate change, catastrophic fires, disease and pests have all led to declining forest health in recent decades. The resulting impact on watersheds, the climate, local economies, wildlife, and recreation, has led the USDA to offer a new vision for our nation's forests. By taking forest management in a new direction, the department will emphasize the role our national forestlands play in contributing to the health and prosperity of the country and reverse the trend of declining forest health.

"Declining forest health and the effects of our changing climate have resulted in an increasing number of catastrophic wildfires and insect outbreaks," said Vilsack. "It is time for a change in the way we view and manage America's forestlands with an eye toward the future. This will require a new approach that engages the American people and stakeholders in conserving and restoring both our National Forests and our privately-owned forests. It is essential that we reconnect Americans across the nation with the natural resources and landscapes that sustain us."

The wildfire outbreaks this week prove Vilsack's need, and now we must act and frame a policy that will restore America's forests and preserve them for future generations through sustainable practices.