U.S. Forest Service stretches truth on logging
The Forest Service has taken some liberties with the truth lately regarding some of its logging projects. The most recent, and possibly the most laughable, of these is the Forest Service’s unsupported claim that post-fire salvage logging reduces soil erosion, compaction, and sedimentation.
One logging industry consultant who was hired by the Forest Service to analyze soil impacts of the proposed Star fire salvage sale on the Eldorado National Forest was recently quoted in The Union, claiming that salvage logging would improve soil conditions because it would leave coarse woody debris (mostly branches) to stabilize soil. He did not bother to mention, though, that this can easily be done without salvage logging by simply “lopping and scattering” lower branches. The soil scientists with whom I have spoken said that even this would likely not be necessary since branches will fall naturally in a burned area.
The Forest Service’s consultant also claimed that salvage logging would “break up hydrophobic soils” supposedly caused by fire, increasing absorption of water, and supposedly reducing erosion. However, a quick look at his section in the draft environmental impact statement revealed that his claim was not based upon any empirical evidence but, rather, upon a “personal observation.” I have spoken to soil scientists about this and they tell me that his statement is highly misleading. Yes, ground-based logging can break up hydrophobic soils, but such soils typically occupy only a small fraction of a burned area, even after a severe fire. Even so, it would take hundreds of measurements to accurately determine the extent to which such soils occur in a given area, and none of this analysis has been done by the Forest Service.
What was most galling to these soil experts, though, was that the Forest Service neglected to mention that tractor logging and road building causes far more severe and long-lasting adverse effects on soils, erosion, water quality and sedimentation than hydrophobic soils ever could. These negative effects of salvage logging generally last 50 to 80 years or more, unlike the effects of hydrophobic soils which typically disappear naturally within a year or two. In addition, the soil damage caused by salvage logging on fragile post-fire soils can significantly impede the subsequent regrowth of forest as compared to natural regeneration.
The second tall tale told by the Forest Service recently is that they are only going to salvage log “dead” trees. There are two big problems here. First, large dead trees, or “snags”, provide some of the very best wildlife habitat for imperiled species because of the natural cavities that get created in them. Nearly 40 percent of all California spotted owl nest sites are in large snags, for example. Pacific fishers den in snags. But large snags and are in very short supply in the Sierra, due to logging. Second, the Forest Service’s own documents clearly state that, for salvage logging projects, they will call any large tree “dead” if it has more than 65 percent of its crown scorched by fire. This, despite the fact that the Forest Service’s own scientists have recently concluded that even if large trees have as much as 90 percent crown scorch, about 60 percent of ponderosas, 75 percent of incense cedars, and 40 percent of white firs will survive and recover.
Last but not least, Tahoe National Forest Supervisor Steve Eubanks was recently quoted in The Union claiming that it doesn’t matter that the Tahoe National Forest is doing more logging than 151 out of 152 national forests nationwide because, he claimed, trees supposedly grow to 6 feet in diameter in 30 years. This is so far from the truth it’s hard to respond to it with a straight face, but I’ll try. In the real world, Sierra Nevada conifers don’t get to old-growth size until they are of old-growth age. A tree 6 feet in diameter will typically be hundreds of years old. That’s a fact.
Here’s an idea: why doesn’t the Forest Service just admit that it wants to do timber sales because that’s the culture of the agency and because the Forest Service’s budget depends upon selling timber, instead of insulting the public’s intelligence by claiming that the best thing for an old growth forest is to cut it down?
Chad Hanson is the executive director of the John Muir Project and is a national director of the Sierra Club. He is based in Cedar Ridge and can be reached at
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