Logging interests stretch truth
It seems that every other week timber interests are contriving a new reason to justify more logging on our national forests. Tahoe National Forest Supervisor Steve Eubanks, for example, recently signed and released the Record of Decision for the Red Star fire salvage logging project, claiming that this timber sale is needed to prevent a severe fire in the future.
The problem with this claim, however, is that Eubanks does not propose to reduce the brush and small fire-killed trees that primarily determine fire behavior. Instead, he proposes to remove the large, “merchantable” burned trees, which are the least flammable material. Numerous imperiled species depend in large part upon moderately to severely burned forests for their survival. Cavities in the larger snags provide nesting habitat for bird species such, as the Vaux’s swift, black-backed woodpeckers, and pileated woodpeckers, as well as mammals like pallid bats. Black bears den in large snags. And the native insects attracted to snags provide food for these species.
In addition, Eubanks proposes to leave the flammable slash debris on most of the project area after logging is completed. The only scientific study to actually test the fire effects of salvage logging of larger trees without removing slash debris found that it increased fire intensity by 29 percent [Stephens, S.L., U.S. Forest Service, “Effects of fuels and silvicultural treatments on potential fire behavior in mixed conifer forests of the Sierra Nevada,” Forest Ecology Management 105:21-34, Table 7 (1998)]. This finding was, unfortunately, ignored.
What’s more, the Red Star salvage timber sale has been promoted from day one as a way to raise funds to pay for restoration costs in the project area, primarily replanting. However, a Dec. 9, 2002, letter from Karen Jones, the project leader for the Red Star sale, reveals that this is untrue. She writes that “salvage funds would be collected from salvage timber sales and added to the ‘salvage pool’ in the future.” In other words, revenue from this project will go right back into the Salvage Sale Fund where it came from and will be used for future salvage logging projects, not replanting.
Ms. Jones’ letter also states that “it is an economic reality that there will not be funds available to significantly reduce the slash debris and remove the small fire-killed trees on a majority of the area….” Funny, they didn’t have any trouble finding funds to cut down big trees.
Finally, a word is probably also in order with regard to Tom Bonnickson’s Dec. 26, 2002, “Other Voices” column which claimed that we must increase logging of canopy trees (i.e., larger trees), supposedly to benefit black oaks through increased sunlight. Bonnickson, who is typically heavy on pro-logging rhetoric but light on facts, failed to cite a single shred of scientific evidence to support this claim that black oaks are in danger in the Sierra Nevada. In fact, black oaks are incredibly abundant. If there is a shred of truth to his column, it’s that black oaks become less dominant as second-growth stands mature – but this is a natural process called succession that is as old as the hills.
Instead of coming up with increasingly ridiculous excuses to justify removing mature trees in order to facilitate timber sales, the Forest Service should simply implement restoration and hazardous fuels reduction projects through service contracts. There are just as many, if not more, jobs in such an approach; it removes the perverse incentives that drive otherwise decent agency managers to plan bad projects, and it costs about the same amount (the Forest Service invariably sells salvage timber sales for pennies on the dollar, so relatively little timber revenue is actually generated to offset other costs).
If we want healthy forests and stable rural economies into the future, we are going to have to muster the courage and the vision to consider some changes. Business as usual just isn’t working anymore.
Chad Hanson of Cedar Ridge is the executive director of the John Muir Project and is a national director of the Sierra Club.
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