Fire Doesn’t Kill Forests, Logging Does

October, 2015
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In 2014, over 160,000 acres of the Klamath National Forest burned. Before the fires were contained, the Forest Service was already planning a post-fire timber sale, the Westside Project. EPIC has spent the better part of a year tracking the development of the Project. Environmental voices have already forced the Forest Service to reduce the Project in size through grassroots activism. Combined, environmental groups submitted more than 13,000 comments opposing the Westside Project.

The Westside Project, as outlined in the Forest Service’s environmental impact statement, will be massive. The logging numbers are the most shocking. The Forest Service wants to clear-cut nearly 6,000 acres, 1,973 acres of which are in identified “Riparian Reserves”—areas with the greatest potential to impact water quality. This logging would generate approximately 95 million board feet of timber. That’s a LOT of wood. To haul all that timber, it would take around 20,000 logging trucks, which if parked front to back would stretch around 300 miles.

The Forest Service has been using the guise of “salvaging” timber as a basis to log some of the most biologically diverse and geologically unstable mountains on the West coast, within Wild and Scenic Rivers adjacent to the Marble Mountain and Russian Wilderness areas and the Pacific Crest Trail. These sensitive post-fire watersheds provide critical habitat for salmon and many rare and endemic species. Fire doesn’t kill a forest, logging does. The Forest Service needs to live up to its responsibility to protect the values that our national forests provide by keeping our wild lands and rivers intact rather than trying to make a quick buck.

Fire does not kill a forest

Public Lands Advocate Kimberly Baker recently returned to the Klamath to “groundtruth” the Project—ensuring that the Forest Service is doing what they said they were going to do. In areas proposed for clear-cut style logging she found scores of big, live trees scheduled to be cut. Ponderosa pines and white fir “flush” after a fire, taking a year to shed browned needles with new, fresh growth. When the Forest Service marked these areas, it failed to consider that some trees may appear to be dead immediately after a fire and up to three growing seasons before exhibiting signs of new growth.

Even in high-severity patches where fire swept through and left blackened snags, life is teeming. Encouraged by the warm dry winter and plentiful dead wood, beetles have swarmed in. Following the beetles are the woodpeckers. The steady drumming of woodpeckers fills the forests now. In time, the woodpeckers and beetles will create cavities in the snags, which can be used by many other animals. On the forest floor, new growth is sprouting. Conifers are regenerating as well as shrubs and hardwoods. Left alone, this new growth will create future big trees.

The more we study post-fire forests, the more we learn that unexpected species, such as the northern spotted owl which is typically associated with green old-growth forests, utilize them. Emerging research shows that unlogged post-fire forests provide good foraging grounds for owls. The standing snags provide a perch for the owls to look for prey. The decaying wood and new growth provides good fodder for spotted owl prey. This promotes a bedroom/kitchen effect. Owls will generally live and nest in nearby green forests (and because most fires, even big ones, burn at low-severity, there’s usually a good amount of nearby green trees) but spend a good amount of time feeding in higher-severity snag forests.

Logging kills forests

By contrast, post-fire logging will remove the largest snags—those which would provide the more habitat value and which have the most likelihood to remain standing while new trees grow. Logging also will inhibit the natural recovery of some areas. Ground disturbing activities, such as tractor logging, will compress soils and help to kill the young plants which are already being established. Logging will also result in considerable slash (unmerchantable wood such as branches) being left on the ground, in some places so thick that regrowth will be virtually impossible for years. These thick piles of slash will be slow to decompose and will increase the risk of future high-intensity fires.

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