Advocating for Real Recovery in “Westside” Post-Fire Logging Proposal

April, 2015

The largest timber sale ever proposed in the Klamath National Forest calls for 43,883 acres of post-fire logging in steep, unstable high value watersheds. The proposal is deceitfully named the Westside Fire Recovery Project, but instead of acting as a prescription for recovery, the proposal would devastate watersheds, salmon, sensitive animal and plant species, fragment wildlife corridors, impact roadless areas and degrade watersheds. It also proposes to plant 20,000 acres of plantation forests that would increase the potential for high intensity fires in the future.

Almost half of the project is within areas known as Late Successional Reserves, which are supposed to be set aside to protect and enhance old growth forest ecosystems. A third of the project area is within the Wild and Scenic Klamath and Salmon River corridors. This is a region where endangered coho salmon and other struggling fish populations are already heavily impacted by many other factors including fire suppression activities, dams, diversions and drought. Millions of dollars have been spent on fisheries restoration projects.

In the past few years, Klamath National Forest timber planners have carried out several post-fire timber sales throughout the forest without adequately considering the cumulative effects from combined projects, past fires and extreme fire suppression activities on these sensitive watersheds. Recent post-fire projects have violated environmental standards. They have not followed best management practices and have failed to implement project design features created to protect wildlife and fisheries.

George Sexton, Conservation Director at Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center says, “The Klamath National Forest is in the dark ages when it comes to post-fire management. While the science is clear that natural recovery is best for wildlife, watersheds and wildlands, Forest Service timber planners seem committed to exploiting wildfire in order to log anywhere and everywhere.”

The forests of Northern California are dependent on fire for their health and productivity. After a forest fire burns, the largest trees usually remain alive, the small overcrowded trees are cleared out, and the snags that are left become wildlife habitat. The downed trees hold the slopes together, enhance soil complexity and eventually become fish habitat when they fall into the waterways.

Historically, cultural burning was used as a means to thin out the understory, open up the forests for fruit and nut producing trees and shrubs, enhance meadows and cultivate basket weaving materials and medicines.

Much of the project area is located within the ancestral territory of the Karuk Tribe. Craig Tucker, Karuk Tribe Natural Resource Policy Advocate, made the following statement regarding the project: “The Karuk Tribe questions whether the aggressive timeline for developing this project allows for a thorough analysis of the environmental and cultural impacts. This is probably the largest timber sale in the history of the Klamath Basin and thus deserves to be analyzed at length and in great detail before implementation. We support responsible logging and fuels reduction around our communities but we also demand that cultural resources, fisheries and water quality not be sacrificed in the process.”

The project focuses on short-term economic gains—without considering ecological and social costs—and fails to include alternatives that would truly protect communities. The Forest Service says they have to speed up the planning process because they are afraid that the timber they want to extract is going to decay.

However, Will Harling, Fire and Fuels Program Co-Director for the Mid Klamath Watershed Council says, “The real emergency here is not rotting timber, but the fact that nearly 50% of the Western Klamath Mountains hasn’t seen fire in over a century.

Fire exclusion has set the stage for more intense wildfires and severe impacts to communities. It has caused the wholesale conversion of critical habitat for threatened fish and wildlife.
What we need are strategic linear treatments that allow us to bring good fire (controlled burns) back to the Wildland Urban Interface safely so our mountain communities can embrace letting wildfires burn in the backcountry. If implemented as planned, adjacent communities will still be at risk from future wildfires. Extensive logging on unstable soils will further impact threatened coho salmon, and we will be no closer to a lasting solution to our fire problems.”

The Forest Service is requesting a streamlined planning process, which could shorten public comment opportunities and speed up the environmental review process, leaving very little time to review the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

The DEIS was released on March 5th and the comment deadline is April 13th. The project is on the fast track with an expedited environmental review process that will be 135 days shorter than usual. The US Forest Service was granted alternative arrangements to shorten the public comment period from 45 days to 30 days. Logging is expected to begin in July—an unprecedented streamlined process for one of the largest post-fire timber sales ever proposed in the history of the United States.

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