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
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. …