Forests need time to heal from cutting
Concerning “TNF chief defends high timber-cutting rates” in The Union, March 26, 2002. I agree with Chad Hanson’s opinion that we give the Tahoe National Forest a rest from the timber sale program.
What is 87.2 million board-feet of timber? Well, assigning a high average of 1,000 board-feet per tree for 57 million board-feet of saw timber cut, that would be 57,000 large trees hauled out of our national forest last year. The remaining 30.2 million board feet of biomass may also include large trees. Why? Biomass holds little or no economic value, but causes enormous economic and ecological harm in the form of catastrophic wildfires. The truth is, the agency sometimes includes large trees to entice someone to remove biomass, defeating the original purpose, because the large trees are needed to shade out new growth and, by that, reduce risk of a catastrophic wildfire.
Our troubles begin when the timber sale ends. Here is why: Newly logged openings at elevations below 5,000 feet fill rapidly with brush and new saplings. Initially, each acre may support thousands of tiny, spindly trees. Most are quickly shaded out by faster-growing brush or neighboring trees that out-compete for water and nutrients. On chance of no additional disturbances, that same acre will eventually (in 250 years) sustain 30-40 large fire-resistant old-growth trees along with associated endangered wildlife. The most precarious period occurs during the first 100 years while fuel loads are high as suppressed trees die and fall to the forest floor. We want to stay far, far away from these areas on warm, windy summer days.
The Forest Service continues to crank out timber sales like clockwork. At the same time, wildfire intensity, rate of spread and acres burned are steadily climbing. Last summer’s 16,600-acre Star Fire began on industrial forest lands and could not be extinguished for more than two weeks. These catastrophic events then trigger intensive salvage logging under inane but hopeful-sounding “ecosystem restoration” labels. We need to give our national forest some time off to heal.
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