After wildfire sweeps through timber, as it does every summer
across the American West, the inclination of foresters is to salvage
the scorched trees. Turning them into paper and lumber, the
reasoning goes, is better than letting them decay. It removes dead
wood that could fuel future fires, and it clears the area for
New evidence, though, suggests that salvage logging increases the
risk of future conflagrations and interferes with forest
regeneration by killing most of the seedlings that reemerge on their
Researchers at Oregon State University recently examined the
aftermath of a massive fire that encompassed nearly 500,000 acres of
southern Oregon in 2002, the so-called Biscuit fire. They reported
last week that salvage logging there destroyed about 70 percent of
seedlings that had sprouted from the forest floor and increased the
risk of future fires.
"Not everything leaves on the log truck," said John Campbell,
researcher in the university's department of forest science. "We
found that the process of logging in this type of situation actually
produces a large amount of fine fuels on the ground that, unless
removed, could increase fire risk, not decrease it."
Forest policy is a big deal in the West, which is mostly national
forest and other public land. Ongoing fires in southern Colorado
forcing hundreds of people to evacuate would seem to boost the
argument for quick logging in fire-damaged areas. But this new
report on negative impacts of salvage logging could hamper the
forest product industry's efforts to persuade policymakers to move
more aggressively in that direction.
An offset to global warming?
The forestry debate also focuses attention on climate change as a
long-term factor in federal forest management - a relatively new
development in the long-running dispute over whether to conserve old-
growth forests or to treat them as a natural resource to be
Industry spokesmen say the prospect of global warming argues for
salvage logging and replanting before it becomes harder to kick-
start new forests that could act as "carbon sinks," trapping the
carbon dioxide that constitutes the most troublesome greenhouse gas
causing global warming.
"The climate's going to be drier and hotter, and the ability to
survive as seed dropping on top of ash versus a [planted] seedling
that's got 10 inches of root stuck down into the ground is going to
be significantly different," says Chris West, vice president of the
American Forest Resource Council, an industry group in Portland,