North Central Washington

Information on Libby South Salvage sale

Background information on salvage sales
compiled by Kettle Range Conservation Group, Dec, 2001.

This web page is a photographic essay that examines the costs and benefits of "salvage" logging. If you would like to skip ahead to the salvage section, then choose a link below, otherwise stay put and enjoy the essay.

image Click for a gallery of Libby South proposed timber sale images

The Sad, the Bad and the Blue - Background information on the Libby South Fire Kill Salvage Timber Sale

Libby South Fire Kill Timber Sale overview
Click for background information
A Short, Sharp, Clear Cut Essay
by George Wooten
March, 2002

In theory, salvage logging should recover some money when trees die unexpectedly, however due to the fact that the timber is both literally and figuratively damaged, the revenue for the seller is considerably lower. For example in Washington state the stumpage value for damaged timber is automatically discounted by 50% of the cost of undamaged timber. Stumpage is an estimate of the yield of sound timber from a given area. For the timber industry, half-price logs are a bargain. Seeing a good deal when it's at 'em, industry spokesmen have spread the word that our forests are in poor forest health, and point the finger at unhealthy "decadent" timber (old growth) in need of thinning (logging) and silvicultural sanitation (just what it sounds like) to improve the "forest health" (grow plantations). We are warned by foresters who are part of this system to beware of insect attacks and root rot as if they were Frankenstein and Godzilla. OK. It turns out there is a different point of view.

I will grant that plantations forests and stand conversions and intensive forestry have a place on industry owned forest lands, which over half of Washington's timber. But Washington state has another big owner besides industry - itself. Washington state holds many acres of forest as "trust lands" dedicated under the attainment of statehood for the benefit of the citizens of the state in perpetuity, which is a long time.

Except there are some problems. Like debris flows. In 2001 a debris flow took the life of a Tonasket, Washington woman. This was a July thunderstorm fatality reported in the Oroville Gazette-Tribune, which also reported heavy precipitation in a short time. There are the yearly washouts on county roads. Like the Bannon Creek washout a decade ago on Tunk Mountain Lookout road which began to melt in February then froze up hard and then changed its mind and got hot and wiped the Chesaw - Havillah Route off the map and buried parts of Bonaparte Creek.. Then there was the Conconully flood that wiped out the whole town in the 1980s. And the Cow Creek debris flow buried Highway 20 under twenty feet at Carlton in the late 1980s. The Entiat fire debris flows of the early 1970s killed a local resident, and the Smith Canyon Road on Loup-Loup Pass was out for two years until DNR could come up with the $300,000 or so to replace a lost gully. And so on. The problem is that these debris flows often emanate from areas where recent disturbances have created a rip in the soil, a mote, a fatal flaw.

Thunderstorms are a part of the Eastern Washington landscape. An area can go many years without experiencing such a disturbance, but eventually, everyone gets it in the face out here. If not directly then though the pocketbook. The thing is - all of these areas just described from Okanogan and Chelan Counties have one thing in common - the soil is a fragile, sandy, glacial till, and most of the surrounding land has been intensively fragmented by tractor logging operations over the past hundred years. While the fragile soil may be the root problem (and we will get to roots), the permanent effect is wherever you travel in the Okanogan County, there are plainly visible permanent scars in the soil caused by scraping off the vegetative layer during log skidding and road building. The vast preponderance of road mileage in Okanogan County is unimproved dirt. Practically every hillside in the county has old abandoned logging roads, with ineffective "tank traps" challenging everyone from hikers to jeeps to venture forth and damn the rattlesnakes and motorcycles. It is a nasty mix if there ever was one.

That's not to say it is easy, or even fun living here in the land of the sun. We have our entertainment - cutting firewood, moving irrigation lines, and putting up fence. Love it, love it. Eastern Okanogan County averages 12" to 18" a year precipitation. In this harsh and rugged climate, trees incredibly grow slowly, sometimes taking 25 to 50 years to get a mere ten feet tall. Precipitation falls mainly as snow, during winters which can go as low as forty below. Plants tend to invest their energy into large and expensive roots.

I once dug up an arrowleaf balsamroot, Balsamorrhiza sagittata, which is an ephemeral spring wildflower about two-feet tall which occurs over large parts of eastern Washington. I was aghast to find the 3" taproot bark was deeply furrowed like a locust tree. Taking the root to a friend who had a machete, we made sections and found the root to be approximately 50 years old. My friend is a wildcrafter, who selectively harvests medicinal plants for various firms. According to him, enormous taproots are actually quite common among eastern Washington's flora.

There are other problems with living in eastern Washington. Like fire. Well, for humans it is a problem, anyway. Actually, to many co-habitants in the arid East Cascades, fire is a necessary and desirable process that cleans out the old dead wood, to make way for the new shoots. To a fire-tolerant plant like pinegrass (Calamagrostis rubescens) fire is like brushing its teeth.

While the fires of 1994 and 2001 made the headlines, fire has friend that often doesn't make the front page, smoke. Both of the last fire seasons saw parts of eastern Washington shrouded in a pall of brown.

Then there is another problem, which I will illustrate through a familiar cartoon by Larson. You know the one--the vet has the horse in his office, and is pointing to a chart of diseases, next to a column of cures. There is broken leg - shoot, sore back - shoot, bad teeth - shoot, you get the idea. Well it seems that like the horse, our industry spokesmen have the same cure no matter what the forest problem. Overstocking - log, understocking - log, fuels reduction - log, decadent trees - log ...

Quite often, we all agree on the urgency of forest stand conditions, but we are still haggling over the choice of treatment. Overstocked stand conditions in many forests of the interior west are frequently due to an altered ecological regime. Several main factors are responsible: (1) fire suppression; (2) past timber highgrading which took the healthy trees and left the unhealthy ones; and (3) lack of ongoing stewardship.

Many of us have begun to take on the task of being land stewards. Between the chainsaw and the books there is a growing community of landowners at the forest interface who are beginning to consider a long-term vision for their land. These people don't have all the answers for what to do, but they do want to invest time and money into making their homes and communities as safe as possible from fire.

Unfortunately, the voices of the these "community foresters" are being drowned in industry rhetoric which has polarized communities, painting a different picture of the cause of poor forest health, for instance in trying to blame the Endangered Species Act, or "elitist environmentalists" or "inept government managers". At the same time logging is called "thinning", and clearcutting is called "even-aged management" or "a return to "historic conditions". Natural processes are portrayed as "wasteful", or "environmental catastrophes", or "a loss of county revenue". Sound familiar?

The next time you hear these cries of doom, ask yourself this, "who stands to make money at this game?" Chances are, it is the timber industry. On our public lands, accurate accounting of costs seldom includes intangibles like soil integrity and long-term site productivity. Washington state doesn't even calculate the cost per sale, which hides whether a sale is being subsidized. The real goal, of course, is to make a profit for the timber industry, with public money if necessary, using political philandering and threats of retaliation toward government employees who don't play the game. This web site provides an alternative to the industry viewpoint.

As a case example of the problems associated with salvage logging, many of the examples in this document are illustrated by reference to the Libby South Fire of 2001 in Washington state. The fire started when the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) drove a dilapidated vehicle through a highly flammable patch of noxious weeds, on an overgrown access road on public trust lands. The fire burned 3,800 acres at a cost of $3.6 million dollars, while threatening homes and firefighters' lives. Without the DNR truck, the fire certainly would not have started. In response, the DNR now proposes to liquidate the burned timber on 418 acres, representing 90 % of trust timber holdings in the parcel, in a single giant salvage clearcut. The trust would receive benefits amounting to a whopping 3 % of what the same acreage typically brings on commercial timber land managed by Weyerhauser.

Click here for some background on this pathetic mess: The Sad, the Bad and the Blue (Stain) at Libby South Fire Kill.

Degrades forest health

Logging and thinning following salvage logging frequently lead to unhealthy forest stands.

Huff et al. (1995), reported that logging and thinning led to the formation of dense, early-successional stands. Salvage and other forms of unsustainable logging cause numerous adverse environmental impacts. Many fires have been impacted by past high-grade logging, which takes the best trees and leaves the rest.

Logging can cause increased incidence of forest diseases, including increased mortality of residual trees due to pathogens and mechanical damage to boles and roots (Hagle & Schmitz 1993, Filip 1994).

According to Forest Service timber sale analyses (USFS Clearwater National Forest, page 152):

Repeated intermediate harvests, partial harvesting, or uneven-age management, such as economic selection cutting or sanitation/salvage cutting could increase both the frequency and severity of root diseases in stands. Even one harvest entry in stands has been found to greatly increase the frequency of root disease compared with stands that have not had tree harvest entries. Studies have shown a doubling of root disease frequency in stands on the Lolo National Forest in Montana with at least one harvest entry compared to those with no history of tree harvest.

Thinning and salvage logging are responsible for damage to soil integrity through increased erosion, compaction, and loss of litter layer (Harvey et al. 1994, Meurisse & Geist 1994).

Salvage logging results in sediment that may eventually be delivered to streams (Beschta 1978, Grant & Wolff 1991).

Thinning and salvage logging increase erosion, due the use or construction of temporary roads that should never be built in the first place:

Sediment contribution to streams from roads is often much greater than that from all other land management activities combined, including log skidding and yarding.

(Gibbons and Salo 1973).

Megahan and Kidd (1972) found that roads can contribute up to 220 times as much sediment to streams as intact forests.

Helicopter logging is often ballyhooed as a benign means of logging. Not only are helicopters very expensive to operate, but Megahan (1987) found that sediment delivery from helicopter logging and prescribed burning increased sediment delivery by more than 100% in a watershed where 75 foot buffers were provided. Helicopter logging also fragments the forest landscape, dries out the soil, and destroys important wildlife habitat.

It is my opinion based on reading the literature and on this modeling exercise that…salvage logging does little to nothing to increase the long-term resilience of these forests to stand destroying fires or insect outbreaks.

(Greenwald, 1996).

Salvage logging leads to diminished habitat suitability.

Logging can reduce habitat quality for species associated with cool, moist microsites or closed canopy forests (FEMAT 1993, Thomas et al. 1993).

Salvage logging does not address root causes of forest health problems.

Mike Zielinski, the fire-rehabilitation coordinator for the Bureau of Land Management in the Great Basin, described how nearly 2 million acres - 3,000 square miles - of the Great Basin burned in 2000 because the land is choked with dry cheatgrass, a fire-loving annual from Eurasia. Fire and cheatgrass are complementary destroyers of the native ecosystem. With every new fire, cheatgrass takes over more and more acreage, while the natives die out. Along with the cheatgrass, successive fires burn hotter and more often, further converting sagebrush grasslands monoclones of cheat.

Because of drought, selective logging, high tree densities, high fuel loads, and the loss of a mosaic of burned and unburned forest stands, low-elevation forests and those on south-facing slopes are now more vulnerable to destructive fire, insects, and disease than they were formerly. (Belsky, 1996).

According to Ingalsbee (2000),

Overgrazing has been a prime causal factor in shifting natural fire regimes from those characterized by frequent, low-severity fires to those now experiencing infrequent, high-severity fires. Managers should strongly consider permanently retiring vacant grazing allottments in order to restore grass and herbaceous communities needed as fuel for low-intensity prescribed and wildland fires. Invasive weeds like cheatgrass are responsible for shifting fire regimes in grassland communities and causing unnaturally severe fires in desert ecosystems.

Libby South fire - showing 
cause of spread by prior high grade logging This photo is a graphic illustration of the effect of on poor forest health. The dense undergrowth and stems in the background are suppressed conifer trees which experienced uncontrolled growth after the stumps were cut several decades earlier. The fire spread mostly through these dense stands. If this area hadn't been logged this way, the Libby South Fire may have been extinguished earlier.

Fire regimes are more severe due to past mismanagement

Government scientists have concluded "Fire severity has generally increased and fire frequency has generally decreased over the last 200 years. The primary causative factors behind fire regime changes are effective fire prevention and suppression strategies, selection and regeneration cutting, domestic livestock grazing, and the introduction of exotic plants." (USDA/USDI, 1997, p. 61).

Salvage logging exacerbates fire risk

"Fire Weather," a 229-page Forest Service manual for all Fire Science personnel, discusses how fire prevention characteristics of a forest are lost by logging. Logging and logging roads open the forest canopy and increase the temperature of air, the ground and forest fuels, which accelerate the rate of burning of surface fires. Opening the forest canopy also lowers humidity of forest fuels, which increases the flammability of these fuels, critically influences the behavior of wildlands fires and may cause rapid and intense fire spread. The report concludes that logging and logging roads increase the chance of wildland fire. The handbook is available from the Government Printing Office, Stock No. 001-000-0193-0 / Catalogue No. A 1.76:360.

Lehmkuhl et al. (1995) and Huff et al. (1995) reported a positive correlation between fuel loadings, predicted flame lengths and slash created by logging and thinning.

"Timber harvest, through its effects on forest structure, local microclimate and fuel accumulation, has increased fire severity more than any other recent human activity." Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project Report (1996).

Slash treatment

Logging removes fire-resistant large tree boles and snags while increasing flammable debris on the ground.

According to Timothy Ingalsbee of the Western Fire Ecology Center,

"...commercial logging extracts the least flammable portion of trees—their trunks—and leaves the most flammable portions —their needles and branches—lying on the ground.

This logging 'slash' is then compounded by the mix of flammable grasses, brush, young conifers, and exotic weeds that grow in tree plantations. Without the shading canopy of big, old trees, this combustible fuel load is exposed to the heating and drying effects of increased sun and wind. This causes wildfires to spread faster, burn more intensely and severely in logged areas than in unlogged native forests.

Additionally, logging roads are well-known conduits for human-caused wildfires ignited by careless recreationists, criminal arsonists and the logging operations themselves. Although logging roads are often touted as places to stop fires, they are more commonly the places to start fires.

Together, tree plantations are like 'fire bombs' and logging roads are their 'fuses.' Indeed, many of the big conflagration fires of the 1990’s were caused by "blow-ups" when wildfires entered stump-and-slash strewn plantation zones. Continuing this fire-prone system of industrial-agricultural forestry, flagrantly denying the best forest science, can only have tragic consequences.

Ingalsbee (2000) noted that hazardous fuels are small-diameter dead surface fuels and understory live vegetation such as grass, brush, saplings, and pole-sized trees. Fire provides a number of ecological benefits that can not be reproduced by mechanically thinning stands. Thus prescribed fire is the most practical and most natural means for reducing small-diameter understory fuels.

A report by the Congressional Research Service on August 22, 2000 (Gorte, 2000), analyzing the impact of the 2000 fires, concluded, "Timber harvesting removes the relatively large diameter wood that can be converted into wood products, but leaves behind the small material, especially twigs and needles. The concentration of these "fine fuels’ on the forest floor increases the rate of spread of wildfires."

The Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project (1996) summary found that,

... more than any other human activity, logging has increased the risk and severity of fires by ... leaving flammable debris.

Logging and thinning has been shown to increase levels of fine fuels and near-term fire hazard (Fahnestock 1968, Weatherspoon 1996, Wilson & Dell 1971, Huff et al. 1995). Logging and thinning to benefit fire resistance sometimes fails because it results in reduced fuel moisture and increased flammability (Countryman 1955, Agee 1997).

Agee's (1997) research demonstrated that reduction of ground fuels is the most effective treatment to prevent crown fires. Since the slash is left on the ground following logging, the only way that logging could conceivable reduce fire risk would be through further piling (and then burning) of the slash piles with heavy, tractor-based equipment. The end result of salvage logging often looks like a battle zone.

Even though these hazards (with logging slash) diminish, their influence on fire behavior can linger for up to 30 years in the dry forest ecosystems of eastern Washington and Oregon.

Huff et. al, 1995).

Logging removes the cooling shade of trees.

The Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project (1996) summary found that, "more than any other human activity, logging has increased the risk and severity of fires by removing the cooling shade of trees ..."

The ICBEMP project found (Hann et al. 1997) that,

Fires in the roaded areas are more intense, due to drier conditions, wind zones on the foothill/valley interface, high surface-fuel loading, and dense stands.

Structural diversity

Salvage logging and timber harvest tend to reduce structural complexity and diversity leading to increased fire risks.

The Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project Report (1996) found,

Timber harvest, through its effects on forest structure, local microclimate and fuel accumulation, has increased fire severity more than any other recent human activity.

The report cites that,

As a by-product of clearcutting, thinning, and other tree-removal activities activity fuels create both short- and long-term fire hazards to ecosystems.

The result of thinning and "fuels treatments" following fire on previously non-harvested lands in Washington (USFS Wenatchee National Forest, 1995), was found to exacerbate fire damage.

Structural complexity and functional diversity make unlogged areas less susceptible to the outbreak of pests and regulate insect activity in surrounding homogenized forests (Schowalter and Means, 1989; Franklin, Perry, Schowalter, Harmon, McKee and Spies, 1989). Canopy arthropods which play an important role in regulating pest outbreaks (Schowalter, 1989), and these may be lost upon logging and roading.

Increased edge effects and increased sunlight penetrating into stands is associated with timber harvest. This affects the population abundance of insects which cause mortality to trees of (Roland, 1993; Rothman and Roland, 1998; Kouki, McCullough and Marshall, 1997; Bellinger, Ravlin and McManus, 1989).

Fires in unroaded areas are not as severe as in roaded areas because of less surface fuel… Many of the fires in the unroaded areas produce a forest structure that is consistent with the fire regime, while the fires in the roaded areas commonly produce a forest structure that is not in sync with the fire regime. Fires in the roaded areas are more intense, due to drier conditions, wind zones on the foothill/valley interface, high surface-fuel loading, and dense stands.

(Interior Columbia Basin Project, Hann et al. 1997.

Recent scientific reviews by Wenatchee Forest Service Research Station (1999) found that on dry sites, the use of prescribed fire alone would restore tree stocking levels and could be implemented on a broad range of cases without prior thinning.

Dense suppressed stands

Timber harvest can result in the creation of dense, early-successional stands that have high fire potential.

An increased fire hazard in managed areas can be attributed to to the creation of dense, early-successional stands via logging that have a high fire potential. (DellaSalla and Frost 2000).

Huff et al. (1995) attributed increased fire hazard in managed areas partly to the creation of dense, early-successional stands via logging that have a high fire potential.

Ladder fuels

Logging and thinning frequently lead to ladder fuel conditions.

Old logging units which have not been cared for frequently grow up in a suppressed condition, with large amounts of brush and dense, spindly crowns which act as "ladder fuels" to spread the fire into the crowns of the trees.


Libby South fire - showing cause of 
spread by prior high grade logging This is another example of how logging increased subsequent fire severity. It shows how the dense ladder fuels created around the old stumps carried the fire into the canopy and killed the trees. Past logging has increased the risk of fire severity. Again, if this area hadn't been logged this way, the Libby South Fire may have been extinguished earlier.

Salvage logging favors the growth of flammable species used as "revegetation mixes".

"According to a Dec. 5 Congressional Research Service report, Forest Fire Protection:

... historic grazing and logging practices (by encouraging growth of many small trees) and especially fire suppression over the past century, appear to have contributed to unprecedented fuel loads in many areas. However, under the current Fire Policy, it appears that grazing is being ignored and that more logging (mechanical fuels treatment) and fire suppression are being prescribed as the solution. This contradicts common sense and will in the end lead to further degradation of forest ecosystems. If we are to seriously talk about how to restore ecosystems it is necessary to reform the logging, grazing, and fire suppression programs that are at the root of poor ecosystem conditions. (Holmer and Ingalsbee, 2001).

In comments to the DNR on the Libby South Salvage Sale, Kettle Range Conservation Group (2001) stated,

This sale should be dropped, and in addition, the trust should be held responsible for damages to nearby landowners for soil losses, spread of noxious weeds from DNR lands onto adjacent private lands, and in maintening vehicles in a dangerous fashion that caused the fire. Nearby landowners are frightened that the poor condition of the DNR fleet trucks will cause more fires. This proposal is a direct result of a fire that began with poor maintenance and equipment, coupled with driving through weed patches, and highly flammable European forage grasses.

The area where the South Libby fire began is dominated by cheatgrass, diffuse knapweed and pubescent wheatgrass, three species that are widely known to increase the rate and severity of fire effects. The truck that started the fire had been driving through these fuels when they ignited. These weeds proliferate through poor management.

Libby South fire - old fireline frome earlier fire This photo is an example of increased fire rate and spread caused by past logging in an old fireline that straddles the main ridge of the South Libby fire that burned in 2001 on the Okanogan National Forest. The photo shows how the old fireline straddling Gold Ridge burned much hotter than the areas on either side. This fireline dates from a previous firefighting effort that replaced trees and snags with dense undergrowth of shrubs and small conifers. The brush and small trees burned extremely hot, completely consuming the fine material, and leaving only a fine residue of ash. Without this corridor of dense fuels, the Libby South Fire may have been extinguished earlier.

Unsustainable

Salvage logging is uneconomical.

Because of the poor analysis and lack of planning that accompanies fast track salvage logging, mitigation is seldom attempted and the environmental affects are worse than timber sales that have been thoroughly analyzed.

Because they are defined as "emergencies", salvage sales lack sound planning that will recognize the value of intact ecosystems when evaluating the impacts. Instead, political posturing by the timber industry will couch such programs in terms of "Jobs vs. the Environment", deflecting attention away from the real problems with degraded environments that result from poorly planned sales on public lands.

According to Ingalsbee (2000),

so-called hazardous fuels reduction projects which are designed as commercial timber sales often result in net deficit losses to the federal treasury.

National forests are far more valuable for their recreation, wildlife and water quality than for timber, minerals and cattle grazing. The National Forests are worth an estimated $234 billion and generate 2.9 million jobs from recreation, fish and wildlife, water quality and wild areas, according to an economic consulting firm that prepared the report for the Sierra Club, which opposes commercial logging in national forests. By comparison, the nation's 192 million acres of federal forests generate $23 billion and 407,000 jobs from timber, mining, grazing and other uses, according to the firm, ECONorthwest.

Gillespie, in Columbiana Magazine (2000 ) analyzed Okanogan County's history of economic development and found that contrary to claims of economic dependence on timber, Okanogan County's post-pioneer economy is based on the amenities of its natural environment, and the home and business development resulting from thirty years of continuous in-migration to the county. The study uncovered many important historical events:

Okanogan County has experienced continual in-migration since the early 1970s, part of the rural living renaissance that is taking place in high quality rural landscapes around the United States (NIIP, 1999, "Personal Income..."; Johnson, 1995, 8). Rapid population growth during the 1990s alone added 5000 new residents, nearly doubled personal income, and generated approximately 4500 new jobs (NIIP, 1999).

In 30 years, Okanogan's population has increased 150%; while its personal income has grown by 700% (NIIP, 1999, "Personal Income..."). Nearly half of Okanogan County's annual personal income, $300 million (1997) is from transfer payments, interest and dividends (NIIP, 1999). However, 85% of Okanogan County personal income in 1997 was generated from trade, finance, real estate, services, government, and transfers and dividends (NIIP, 1999).

There are 7000 jobs in natural resources (agriculture, timber and mining) that comprise 30% of Okanogan's total 23,000 jobs. The number of extraction related jobs has remained constant for 30 years, while Okanogan has added 10,000 new jobs in that time period (NIIP, 1999, "Employment...").

Okanogan County has been classified a Recreation county, one of only 17 recreation counties among 100 counties in the interior Columbia River Basin (Quigley, 1997). Recreation counties are so classed because they are attracting migrants who are looking for a relaxed and aesthetically pleasing place to live (Gomoll, 1997). Recreation counties are the fastest growing counties in the United States (Johnson, 1999), and in the interior Columbia Basin (Quigley, 1997, 24).

Quality-of-life driven population growth is expected to be the primary driver of the basin's economy in the future (Gomoll, 1997, 2). The majority of new residents purchase homesites in the unincorporated areas of the county, which experienced a growth rate of 19% during the 1990s (Nelson, 1999, 2-4).

Salvage logging on public lands outcompetes private and small-lot interests.

Salvage logging forces timber into market gluts, which result in competition between state and private interests, effectively putting private timber lots out of business, while benefiting large industrial outfits. By favoring government-subsidized logging, some private timber sales will become unprofitable. This will force some small woodlot owners toward bankruptcy, along with any benefits that would result from sound ecosystem management of forests. While the bottom line of industry is the dollar, badly needed restoration on private lands would may not be affordable during a timber glut.

Government accountability has repeatedly been questioned by federal audits, and their budgets frequently encumbered by Congressinal fiat.

Sad to say, Congressional micromanagement has mandated many environmentally harmful actions on behalf of the Forest Service (we would all rather forget the timber industry bailout of 70s). At that time, some timber companies that would have gone out of business were propped up by government subsidies that kept them artificially functioning. Forests are suffering from a century of exploitive timber extraction mandated by beltway bureaucrats.

Another Congressional intervention occurred in the 1990s with the "timber rider", or recissions bill, which required the US Forest Service to sell billions of board feet of timber off national forests in two years, while suspending all environmental laws and judicial processes. The Rider was written by Senator Slade Gorton of Washington, a timber industry hack who admitted taking $34,000 in campaign donations from the timber industry. The timber rider was a hoax on the American public passed by the swell of new of Republicans that entered Congress in 1996, because it resulted in deficit spending with a net loss to the treasury. An example was the Thunder Mountain salvage timber sale in Okanogan County that cost taxpayers over $400,000 while generating approximately $30,000, even though a higher bid by Northwest Ecosystem Alliance would have paid not to log the trees.

Another disastrous timber rider was the infamous Section 318 or "Hatfield Rider in the 1990 Interior Appropriations Act, which specified unsustainable levels of clearcutting on Forest Service and BLM lands in Washington and Oregon.

Fuels Reduction

Through the 1990s, the history of government logging for "fuels reduction" proposals has been fraught with bias and frequently lack sound management.

While this is changing, there are still strong tendencies to get the cut out without truly considering the consequences.

Ingalsbee (2000) found that,

Problems exist with over-generalizing the effects of fire exclusion, and misapplying data derived from short-interval forest ecosystems (e.g. ponderosa pine stands) to long-interval forest ecosystems that have not missed their fire cycles yet and are still within their historic range of variability for stand-replacing fire events (e.g. high elevation lodgepole pine or fir stands).

So-called hazardous fuels reduction projects which are designed as commercial timber sales often result in net deficit losses to the federal treasury.

(Ingalsbee, 2000).

Ingalsbee (2000) found that large-scale "restoration" timber projects should not extend beyond the local capacity of communities to supply labor and equipment. The most cost-effective methods for reducing wildfire risks to the urban interface zone may be to fund fire prevention education, and technical assistance efforts for fuels management on private lands, along with low-interest loans for home reconstruction projects that would replace flammable materials with non-flammable materials.

Salvage logging suffers from poor monitoring of pre- and post-sale treatments.

According to an article by John Cushman (1999), federal auditors found that the Forest Service frequently fails to assess, prevent or correct environmental damage from logging on the national forests. After inspecting 12 timber projects in the field from 1995 to 1998, the Agriculture Department's inspector general found that all were deficient and that "immediate corrective action is needed." Environmental studies required before logging were poorly done, rules to protect streams and wildlife were not followed, and key steps to repair the harm after logging were omitted. The inspector general, Roger C. Viadero, reported on Jan. 15 to Mike Dombeck, past chief of the Forest Service, that the review had found "numerous serious deficiencies." Agency officials generally agreed with the report's conclusions and recommendations.

Salvage logging, by its very nature, must be done in a big hurry before before the value of dead timber crashes.

There is a real risk that ecologically harmful projects will be common place because there are no safeguards to exclude projects from roadless, old growth, and other ecologically important areas that don’t need fuels reduction treatments. Projects are already emerging and there is growing concern about the emphasis on commercial commodity production and the lack of emphasis on doing projects -- where the work needs to be done -- in the urban/wildlands interface.

(Holmer and Ingalsbee, 2001)

Guise of Forest Health

Salvage logging and "fire suppression efforts" are used as guises by timber beasts to loot protected public resources such as roadless areas and Wilderness.

Libby South fire - showing resistance 
to fire of roadless interior The interior of the Libby South fire burned on the Okanogan National Forest in 2001, shows the resilience of the roadless interior of the stand in resisting the 2001 fire spread. The burned trees in the foreground are along an old timber sale, but the background trees only exhibit only minor spotting. In contrast to the poor forest health of old logging units, areas within roadless areas which have never experienced logging typically undergo light underburns or no fire at all, during the same fire event. This photo shows how trees in the uncut areas remained primarily green and healthy. Again, if this area hadn't been logged this way, the Libby South Fire may have been extinguished earlier, and the fire severity would have benefitted the stand by cleaning out underbrush, without killing the overstory trees.

Contrary to statements that have been made by critics of roadless area protection, the forests most in need of fuels treatment are not roadless areas but areas that have already been roaded and logged, "where significant investments have already been made" (USFS/USDI, 1997).

While on the campaign trail, Governor George W. Bush tried to sway opinion toward increased salvage through anti-Clinton rhetoric, e.g., Clinton administration policies that have restricted logging have "made the forests more dangerous to fire."

Many timber sales claim a need to return conditions to a "pre-settlement" conditions, as if the presence of late-seral stands was something out of whack with the environment. These claims are refutable through reference to actual, as opposed to hypothetical, historical stand conditions. The John Lieberg USGS reports of1897-9, indicate dense stands, high stem densities, many snags and burnt areas and few open stands. Similarly, Skovlin and Thomas (1995) report many photos from 60-80 years ago with stands that are very dense, or recently burned. Both reports discount mythological accounts of wide-spaced canopies given in Forest Service "historic range of variability" discussions. According to Skovlin and Thomas (1995), "We believe the bias toward logging has corrupted forest managment and that an honest appraisal of stand succession, historic processes and desired future condition must be made."

"...the Forest Health Hoax has metamorphosed into what can be called the fire hazard hysteria. Now, its not just those so-called dead and dying stands of trees that need to be commercially extracted, but also those live and growing ones! Mature, multi-storied, closed-canopy forests—the very stands many of our nation’s most endangered forest species depend on for their survival—are now being portrayed as 'tinderboxes' ready to fuel 'catastrophic wildfires.' Logging proposals are no longer presented truthfully as commercial timber sales, but instead, are being portrayed dishonestly as 'fuels reduction for fire protection' projects.

(Ingalsbee)

Pacific Biodiversity Institute studied the actual occurrence of fire, in constrast to that reported in hyped-up media and government reports. In an August 31, 2000 press release, Peter Morrison, Director of PBI noted, "Under natural circumstances, fire acted 'like a gardener that determined what grows in the garden.... It [fire] keeps these ecosystems as vibrant, healthy ecosystems.... Without fire, it's like a person who never cleans up their room, never sweeps its, never takes the garbage out, never does any of that.... It's not a very healthy place to live." (Morrison in McClure, 2000).

Pacific Biodiversity Institute studies showed that in states with some of the biggest fires in 2000, less than one tenth of the blazes occurred where tree thinning operations advocated by the timber industry would be practical. Much of the burned land was actually in grasslands or places with few to no trees, rather than not in timber. (McClure, 2000). Using advanced satellite imaging, federal fire data, and computer mapping systems, PBI scientifically analyzed the location, size, land ownership, forest type and management history of five of the largest fires, as well as reviewing regional fire patterns over the last century.

The report by Pacific Biodiversity Institute, "Assessment of Summer 2000 Wildfires: Landscape History, Current Condition and Ownership", found that most of the forested area which burned was managed timberland, not pristine old growth. Contrary to timber industry rhetoric about logging to prevent fires, most of the forests which burned this year had already been logged. This is proof that logging doesn't prevent forest fires. The report shows that the arguments for salvage logging are self-serving attempts to exploit emotions and human tragedy for corporate profit. The facts simply don't support the political rhetoric.

Additionally the report found:

- Only 38% of the acres burned in 2000 were in roadless or wilderness areas.

- Most fires neither originated in, nor were confined to roadless area, demonstrating the hollowness of attacks on roadless area protection.

- Analysis of five of the largest fires (Valley/Skalkaho (MT), Kate's Basin (WY), Canyon Ferry (MT), Burgdorf Junction (ID), and Clear Creek (ID)) confirms the west-wide pattern: 36% of area was non-forested, 57% was in naturally high intensity burn forest types, only 8% occurred in naturally cool burning forest types. Most of the acres were in roaded, managed forests.

- The acres burned in 2000 were well below the century's average. The 6.4 million acres burned thus far is much less than the 13.9 million acre average from 1916 to 1999. Over 7 million acres have burned in 1988 and 1963, over 50 million acres burned in 1930 and 1931. Large regional fire years are the norm, not the exception.

"The timber industry and its supporters claim this is an extreme fire season [year 2000], but they are ignoring some very basic facts," said Peter Morrison of the Pacific Biodiversity Institute. "This year is really not all that extreme. In fact it is really well below the average for the last 84 years. This year severe fires have been burning in roaded and heavily managed landscapes near where people live. So this has been an intense year for them, but massive logging programs aren't the solution their problem."

"When the smoke clears, the claims of logging advocates are revealed to be hot air," said Mitch Friedman, Executive Director of Northwest Ecosystem Alliance. "If the American people didn't already know that you can't save a forest by cutting it down, the proof has now emerged from the flames themselves."

"Logging is the problem, not the answer," said Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity. "It is disgusting to see politicians exploit human tragedy to in order to help an industry that has already done so much damage to our forests. We need to base forest policy on facts, not heat of the moment rhetoric."

Alternatives

Sound restoration alternatives following wildfire are passed up in the rush to salvage.

Weather, rather than fuels, is often the primary variable determining fire severity and extent (Flannigan and Harrington 1988, Johnson and Wowchuck 1993, Turner et al. 1994, Bessie and Johnson 1995, Agee 1997). Many large fires are not successfully controlled or extinguished by fire fighting efforts, but rather when the weather changes (Romme and Despain 1989).

In general, roadless areas: 1) have not been subject to timber management activities that often increases hazardous fuel loads of highly-flammable small-diameter surface and ladder fuels; 2) have not been as altered by the effects of fire suppression, especially compared to previously roaded and logged lands, and 3) present the lowest risk of human-caused ignitions.

(DellaSala and Frost, 2000)

Jack Cohen (1999), found that removing fuels from within 40 meters of a structure was effective at and reducing the flammability of structures, landscape-level thinning was not. Fuels reduction treatments carried out beyond 40 meters of structures are ineffective because they do not reduce the ignitability of homes from firebrands.

Cohen states,

the threat of life and property losses during wildland fires is a significant issue for Federal, State, and local fire and planning agencies who must consider residential development within and adjacent to wildlands.

According to Cohen,

The evidence suggests that wildland fuel reduction for reducing home losses may be inefficient and ineffective. Inefficient because wildland fuel reduction for several hundred meters or more is greater than necessary for reducing ignitions from flames. Ineffective because it does not sufficiently reduce firebrand ignitions.

According to past Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck, 87% of areas at high risk for catastrophic fire on National Forest lands are in roaded areas, while only 13% in roadless areas.

Prescribed fire can accomplish the ecological and management objectives currently ascribed to silviculture, (Weatherspoon et al. 1992, SNEP 1996, Hann et al. 1997), and furthermore, prescribed fire seems to be the most effective treatment for reducing wildfire severity and rate of spread (van Wagtendonk 1996, Stephens 1998). Prescribed fire reduces fuel loading and continuity, decreases pest outbreaks, provides germination sites for shade-intolerant species, releases nutrients, and creates wildlife habitat (Walstad et al. 1990, Agee 1993, Chang 1996, Biswell 1999).

Some wildfires could accomplish these same objectives using a ‘confine and contain’ strategy to burn in roadless areas under specific environmental conditions, particularly in view of new federal policies that permit wildfires to be carefully ‘managed’ if they meet resource objectives and are consistent with historic fire regimes. By attempting a failed suppression effort with insufficient resources, four fighters died in the Thirtymile Fire on the Okanogan National Forest in 2001.

Links to sample background papers and comments on salvage logging

References

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