EESI Executive Director Carol Werner gave a presentation at the SmallWood Conference, “Forest Utilization and Management: From Working Woodlands to City Streets,” held by the Forest Business Network on June 5 in Rochester, Minnesota.

Carol Werner explained that prolonged heat, drought, pests and decades of accumulated fuel-build up in our forests have contributed to ever-worsening wildfire seasons. Wildfire season lasts two months longer and burns twice as much land as compared to 40 years ago. The U.S. National Climate Assessment predicts that for every 1.8 degree of surface temperature rise, the Western wildfire area may quadruple. According to the USDA, fire suppression has grown “from 13 percent of the [U.S. Forest Service]'s budget just 10 years ago to over 40 percent in 2014.” In 2013, wildfire fighting costs topped $1 billion, as well as the incalculable human losses sustained.

The future doesn’t have to be filled with ever-worsening wildfires. Better forest management, including dedicated forest management funding, fuel reduction practices, and expanded bioenergy and biobased products could restore our forest ecosystems. Productive, healthy forests are our best available wildfire-fighting tool. President Obama’s 2015 budget proposes the creation of a $954 million emergency disaster fund that would be tapped when fire-fighting costs exceed set maximums, but more action is needed to merge the concepts of forest resiliency and sustainable forestry products.

Carol Werner's presentation explored existing federal programs that can help realize the environmental and social co-benefits of forestry products, forest resiliency and increased economic opportunity in rural economies. We need to get serious about forest restoration and reducing the risk and intensity of fires in a changing climate. By expanding the market for forestry products and promoting sustainable forestry practices, forests can be better adapted and more resilient to a changing climate.

Download the full presentation here, or view it below.