Beetle wars

  The Idaho Panhandle national forests want to log 153 million board-feet of timber this summer - doubling the cut of the past two years - to stop a bark beetle explosion in north Idaho and eastern Washington.


Chainsaws are set to roar by July, and plans call for 5,000 acres of clear-cuts and 35 miles of roads. This has Forest Service critics rallying.


"The general problem with the Forest Service is that for decades they have tried to treat every problem with one answer: Log it," says John Osborn of the The Lands Council (formerly the Inland Empire Public Lands Council). "The Forest Service is proposing to make that worse. You can't log your way to watershed health."


Yet the agency's proposal appears to attempt just that. The Forest Service says it will spend logging revenues on watershed restoration and replanting the clear-cuts with species resistant to future beetle outbreaks.


The current bug bonanza stems partly from a century of logging the most fire- and bug-resistant tree species. What remains is a forest dominated by Douglas fir and grand fir - trees that easily succumb to bark beetle outbreaks.


Meanwhile, loggers say if trees aren't cut now, the threat of fire could skyrocket, and beetles could spread to state and private lands.


The industry admits that past logging is part of the problem, but "we've learned a lot and we are ready to apply that to improve the conditions of the forest," says Stefany Bales of the Intermountain Forest Industry Association. "Leaving this alone is not going to get the general public what they want."


* Ken Olsen