Over 200,000 acres of fire burned beautifully on the Klamath National Forest this summer. Three-quarters burnt at low to very low severity, according to Burned Area Emergency Reports. The ecological and financial costs of firefighting were extreme. Bulldozers cleared over 154 miles of ridgelines to bare earth, some covered with slash chest-high. Burnouts intentionally set killed acres of forest stands. All told, firefighting measures on the Klamath National Forest cost $167,800,000.
Wildfire is sensationalized in the media but the effects of fire suppression are rarely examined or documented. This leaves the public unaware of the risks, costs, and impacts of firefighting. Bulldozing fire lines wreaks havoc on our national forests. Fire lines increase habitat fragmentation for many species dependent on forest cover. For instance, many of the dozer lines put in place this summer went through Northern spotted owl nest areas.
As seen from this summer, old fire lines can increase fire behavior. By leaving dead vegetation to cover bare soil, brush species grow into the slash creating thick, impenetrable and highly flammable fuel loads. Fire lines also spread noxious weeds, one of the biggest threats to our national forests. Lastly, they create long-term visual impacts and can be seen from Wilderness Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers and throughout the backcountry.
Post-fire logging is even more devastating to our watersheds—eliminating valuable wildlife habitat, fragmenting the landscape, damaging natural recovery, causing erosion, striping future soil nutrients, removing shade that provides cool microclimates and removing biological legacies and complex forest structure. Post-fire areas are full of life and because of myopic management they are one of the most rare ecosystems in our watersheds.
The Klamath National Forest has proposed and is currently implementing numerous logging operations which will have disastrous results for our forests. The agency is now planning the Westside Project, which proposes over 43,883 acres of post-fire logging in some of the most ecologically valuable habitats and watersheds in Northern California.
The Wild and Scenic North Fork Salmon River, one of the most outstanding rivers for salmon in the west, will be hit particularly hard. The Klamath National Forest is now logging in the 2013 Salmon Complex Fire area and is currently proposing 7,600 acres more in the 2014 Whites Fire footprint within Late Successional (old forest) and Riparian (streamside) Reserves and the Wild and Scenic River corridor. To add to these cumulative impacts on the North Fork Salmon, the agency is also planning the Jess timber sale, which targets old-growth trees and proposes to remove vast amounts of forest canopy.
The agency has a long record of destructive fire suppression activities and failing to follow mitigations put in place to protect streams and wildlife during post-fire projects. This includes logging steep erodible hillsides in wet weather, not retaining appropriate amounts of large standing trees or on the ground and streamside cutting. Let’s learn from the past, create strategic fire plans and allow for natural recovery.