Magazine article American Forests

Deciphering Bitterroot

Magazine article American Forests

Deciphering Bitterroot

Article excerpt


Recent controversy over a Burned Area Recovery Plan for the Bitterroot National Forest illustrates some of the difficulties facing natural resource managers and policymakers in today's forest policy environment. Those difficulties arise from value conflicts, adversarial approaches to decisions, procedural knots, and a traditional scientific management mindset.

The Bitterroot fires of 2000 burned 350,000 acres, some of it intensely. The U.S. Forest Service began to formulate a recovery plan with guidance from the new National Fire Plan and with a great public focus on wildfire issues.

The agency worked through the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process as required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). (It held public meetings and did public surveys to obtain diverse local perspectives, developed and assessed a set of alternative actions, obtained further public response to these alternatives, and after 16 months, came out with its preferred alternative.)

The alternative mixed watershed protection, forest regeneration, and fuel-reduction activities, consistent with the goals and strategies of the National Fire Plan.

Some of the proposed activities met with broad public approval-activities such as watershed protection and forest regeneration, much of it tree planting. (AMERICAN FORESTS is partnering with the agency and other private organizations to support and leverage tree-planting activities focused on ecosystem restoration.).

"Fuel reduction" activities, however, met with strong opposition and threats of appeal and litigation from a number of environmental groups.

The fuel reduction activities the agency proposed involved salvage logging in burned areas to reduce the threat of intense "reburns." The differences in perspective on these activities are difficult to unravel. The agency presented those activities as salvaging dead and dying trees and cutting small-diameter trees that stood below the canopy in order to reduce the risk of destructive wildfires that might threaten communities and important ecological values.

Opposing environmental groups, however, called it salvage logging that was driven by economic concerns, would have adverse environmental impacts, and had not been scientifically proven to reduce wildfire risk. …

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