With Oregon Timber Sale, Controversy Flares ; A US Auction of Fire-Damaged Trees Renews a Forest-Management Debate

Article excerpt

In the wildfire-prone West, a long and contentious debate over how best to regenerate charred forests - especially in mountainous areas with no easy access - is flaring anew.

Over the weekend, the US Forest Service auctioned off logging rights to an area here in Oregon that was damaged in the 500,000- acre "Biscuit Fire" in 2002. The decision to move forward with "salvage" logging of burned timber there represents the first major confrontation over remote public lands since last year, when the Bush administration reversed a rule that banned commercial development in 59 million roadless acres across the West.

The Forest Service and the timber industry say large standing trees that have been killed by fire can be carefully logged using helicopters, then replanted with seedlings. So do a majority of US representatives, who recently passed a bill, now headed for the US Senate, that would accelerate salvage logging in roadless areas.

But many forest ecologists say such logging inhibits natural regeneration, resulting in young, even-age forests more prone to future fires. In a recent letter to Congress, 169 scientists wrote: "Although logging and replanting may seem like a reasonable way to clean up and restore forests after disturbances like wildland fires, such activity would actually slow the natural recovery of forests and of streams and creatures within them."

In another recent letter to Congress, a group of current and retired smokejumpers and members of "hotshot" firefighting teams warned that opening up roadless national forest areas to salvage logging "would make forests more flammable and increase the safety risks for wildland firefighters."

Meanwhile, the governors of Oregon, Washington, California, and New Mexico are challenging the Bush administration in court over its repeal of the Clinton-era rule on roadless areas. That case is scheduled to be argued in federal court in August.

Such logging also is opposed by companies such as The North Face, Patagonia, and Nike. Outdoor recreation clubs including hunting and fishing organizations also oppose logging in national forest roadless areas.

Nevertheless, Congress is moving toward allowing more salvage logging in roadless federal forest areas. The Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act passed 243-182 in the House May 17 and is likely to clear the Senate as well. The bill would expedite environmental reviews of such logging. …