New legislation comes despite science showing timber salvage harms essential wildlife habitat
Jodi Peterson, HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
The third-largest wildfire in California history, 2013’s Rim Fire, burned more than 400 square miles, including parts of Yosemite National Park and the Stanislaus National Forest. A year later, the Forest Service proposed cutting down the dead and damaged trees across about 50 square miles, but environmental groups sued to stop the salvage logging, saying it would harm wildlife and impede forest regeneration.
Their appeal was denied and logging began, but the groups’ concerns are increasingly borne out by science: Recently-released studies point to the crucial importance of burned-over habitat for many species, including the Pacific fisher and black-backed woodpecker. Despite this, Congressional Republicans are pushing two bills, supported by the timber industry, that would speed up logging in national forests after wildfires and reduce environmental review.
Read more at: Congress tries to speed up contentious post-fire logging — High Country News
Nigel Duara, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES
During the dry summer of 2011, wind gusts sent a 75-foot aspen tumbling into a power line, sparking a fire on federal land that burned for five weeks over an area the size of Manhattan. All that was left in the hottest burn zones was a silent swath of blackened trees and ash-covered ground.
Federal foresters decided the towering ponderosa pines would never return and declared the area dead, the first step in a process to allow timber companies to harvest trees on public land that would otherwise be off-limits.
But a growing body of fire research indicates that the federal salvage strategy creates more problems than it solves by stunting tree regrowth, denying habitat to a variety of species and increasing the risk of erosion.
Salvage logging destroys the forest’s initial regrowth efforts in nutrient-rich soil and needlessly removes shrubs that are probably beneficial to sapling trees, short-circuiting the natural life cycle of the forest, according to research.
“It’s kicking the forest when it’s down,” said Chad Hanson of the John Muir Project, an environmental nonprofit that opposes salvage logging.
The Forest Service and timber companies say that the dead wood must be removed before the forest can grow and that shrubs have to be killed off with herbicides so the conifers have sun to grow again.
Though part of the Las Conchas fire site was salvage-logged, another section outside New Mexico’s remote Jemez Springs was not.
Four years after the blaze, the Jemez Springs area today is alive with Gambel oak and three-toed woodpeckers, along with occasional conifer saplings growing amid the brush.
“See this?” Hanson said, pulling back a strand of oak to reveal a rubbery green pine sapling just an inch tall. “They said this wouldn’t be here, but we found it. And there’s more.”
By contrast, in places like California’s Rim fire site, salvage crews immediately began felling burned pines and dying trees, spraying the area with herbicide and planting conifer saplings. The result is little ground vegetation but stands of artificially planted conifers returning apace.
Read more at: Nature replants its own burned forests, environmentalists say
Chad T. Hanson and Dominick A. Dellasala, THE NEW YORK TIMES
In the fall of 2013, shortly after fire swept across 257,000 acres of forest and shrub lands near Yosemite National Park in California’s Sierra Nevada, Republicans in the House of Representatives approved a bill that would have suspended environmental laws to increase logging in our national forests in the name of fire prevention and “restoration.”
Fortunately, the legislation never made it out of Congress. But it is fire season again in the West and, predictably, House Republicans have struck again, passing a similar measure, almost entirely along party lines, that all but gives away public forests to logging companies. A similar bill promoted by three Western Republicans is now before the Senate.
Just as they did in 2013, supporters of this legislation are using the public’s fear of forest fires to advance their agenda. They argue that overgrown and “unhealthy” forests raise the risk of wildfires, and that the government has been hampered by litigation and environmental reviews from allowing timber companies to thin forests to reduce the risk of fire.
Accordingly, this legislation would allow more logging on federal lands, including clear cutting, by exempting some logging from environmental reviews entirely, limiting oversight in other cases and making it much more difficult to challenge harmful logging projects in court.
The legislation is rooted in falsehoods and misconceptions.Some of the bill’s supporters claim that environmental laws regulating commercial logging have led to more intense fires. But, as we saw in the 2013 fire near Yosemite, known as the Rim Fire and one of the largest in California history, commercial logging and the clear-cutting of forests do not reduce fire intensity.
Read more at: More Logging Won’t Stop Wildfires – The New York Times