The timber industry and environmentalists can agree on one thing: The Forest Service’s Biscuit Fire salvage logging program has been a fiasco. Despite accidentally allowing logging in a botanical reserve, the agency has sold just one-fifth of the timber it promised (HCN, 5/16/05: Unsalvageable).
Now, two Oregon Republicans have a plan to prevent similar failures in the future — by speeding up post-fire logging. Rep. Greg Walden and Sen. Gordon Smith plan to introduce parallel bills in the next several weeks. They say the bills will help expedite forest recovery in the aftermath of fires, blowdowns, and other catastrophic events. "If you don’t get in and remove burned dead trees," says Walden, "you’ll get a brush forest" that has little commercial value and encourages fire to return.
But salvage logging is destructive, not restorative, says George Sexton of the nonprofit Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center in Ashland, Ore. He and other conservationists worry that Walden and Smith want to use fire as an excuse to log in protected areas, ignore ecological concerns and public input, and "lock the courthouse door" to judicial review.
University of Washington biologist Jerry Franklin thinks there’s room for compromise. He suggests accelerating salvage projects in areas already being managed for timber production, and otherwise letting nature take its course. That could give industry a chance to cut smaller timber before it rots, while leaving the bigger trees that are important for wildlife even after they’re dead.
Loggers can be expected to leave behind some large trees, says Dave Schott of the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association, but not all of them: "Most mills don’t want just small-diameter logs."