Salvage Logging Disputed
National forests ravaged by wildfire should be left to heal themselves as Yellowstone National Park has since the big 1988 blaze, conservationists who oppose a salvagelogging proposal said Thursday.
But supporters of the legislation disputed characterization of the vast blaze as natural and said some of the Yellowstone area still has not recovered.
The Senate Appropriations Committee is set to vote today on Washington Republican Sen. Slade Gorton’s plan to exempt some salvage logging from environmental laws to ease fire threats and to harvest deadwood before it loses its commercial value.
Two groups - the Idaho Sporting Congress and Save America’s Forests - issued a report highly critical of the ecological damage caused by salvage logging, stressing the potential harm to fish from increased sediment in streams.
Fire, insects and disease are a natural part of healthy forests and should not be disrupted by artificial efforts to thin overstocked stands or to retrieve dead or dying timber, they said.
“Within two years, Yellowstone bounced back,” said Ron Mitchell of the Idaho Sporting Congress based in Boise.”The trout streams are doing well; in fact, they are producing bigger fish than before the fire. The diversity of plant life has expanded,” Mitchell said.”You get a big hit of essentially fertilizer after a fire if you leave it alone,” he said.
But a timber industry official who supports salvage logging disputed that assessment. “Some areas have done quite well, but many areas in Yellowstone Park are still not revived and won’t be for decades,” said Doug Crandall, vice president of the American Forest & Paper Association.
Elk and buffalo populations were down 50 percent the year after the Yellowstone fire, he said, and mudslides filled several fishbearing streams.
Crandall also disputed characterization of the 1988 fire - which burned 1.4 million acres in and around Yellowstone - as natural.
The huge blaze was an unnatural phenomenon resulting from 100 years of fire-suppression policies that allowed wood fuels to build up beyond natural levels, he said.
“Had nature managed that, there would have been many smaller fires during that century - not one huge, hot-type fire situation,” Crandall said.
The Idaho Sporting Congress report singled out one of the Forest Service’s largest salvagelogging operations in recent years as an example of why such harvests should not be exempt from U.S. environmental laws.
The agency sold 130 million board feet of timber over a 100,000-acre area in the Boise National Forest after lightning strikes ignited a fire in 1992.That’s about half the amount of timber the Forest Service offered for sale last year in all the national forests in Oregon and Washington.
Mitchell said the logging was done without the usual environmental impact statement - only a less rigorous environmental assessment was required. Forest Service officials also prohibited citizen appeals of the logging.
Illegally constructed helicopter landing zones caused erosion that damaged streams, and more than 100 large trees were cut illegally in stream-protection zones, he said.
But a Forest Service official challenged his description.
The U.S. Agriculture Department honored the Boise forest with an award for the salvage project, Steve Mealey, former supervisor of the forest now working for the agency’s Upper Columbia Basin Environmental Impact Statement Team, said Thursday.
“I’m very proud of that project,” he said.
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