Society’s need for wood products is not going away any time soon. In fact, as a constantly renewing resource, in many applications it is a far better choice than fossil-fuel based plastics, fertilizers, and fuels, or fossil-fuel dependent concrete and steel.

We need to decide what our wood future looks like: more of the same thing that got us into this mess in the first place, or a new kind of timber industry that uses the smaller-diameter trees and woody material that needs to come out of the forest to restore ecological balance and allow low-intensity fire to return.

We’ve tried to eliminate fire from our landscapes, and it hasn’t worked any better than trying to eliminate any other natural process (like rain) would. Low-intensity fire recycles nutrients in dry western forests (and Mediterranean forests around the world), and maintains productive openings for wildlife foraging. These openings also help disrupt high intensity wildfire by bringing that fire back to the ground and cooling it down.

So how do we learn live with small fire? How can we continue to live in the forest in growing numbers without devastating consequences? This requires a coordinated program of regulation and policy. Fire doesn’t respect administrative boundaries: we can’t have neighboring towns or counties enacting policy that undercuts that of their neighbors, any more than we can have conflicting management strategies. We all have to work together to create a unified and coordinated vision.

And if we all pull together, our region becomes more appealing for state and federal funding programs that help the medicine go down easier for everyone.