Opinion by Erik Ryberg
For a long time I was a critic of the
Thunderbolt timber sale on the Payette and Boise national forests
in Idaho. Its real name was the "Thunderbolt Watershed Restoration
Project" because its intent, the public was told, was to help
But it seemed like a timber sale since
it called for 3,300 acres of logging in two areas without
So, initially, like most
environmentalists, I opposed cutting trees that had been off limits
to timber companies for 30 years. Did it make sense, I wondered, to
cut more than half the trees above spawning beds? My skepticism was
also shared; opposition to the Thunderbolt sale on the South Fork
of the Salmon River weighed in from seemingly everywhere: the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, Idaho
Fish and Game, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission and
Could they all be wrong? For months
last year the critics had me on their side. First, there was the
problem of landslides attributed to logging. Back in the 1960s,
slides almost wiped out chinook salmon in this most productive
river in the entire Columbia River Basin.
there was the nagging problem with the Forest Service's pitifully
weak analysis, which was spearheaded by the local ranger and Boise
Forest supervisor. Hoping to gain support, they sent around
Thunderbolt's internal fisheries analysis for peer review by
scientists at several agencies. The panel reported back that the
timber sale failed to pass muster.
was the opinion of Dave Burns, lead fisheries biologist for the
Payette National Forest. He said his agency justified the logging
only by circular reasoning, incorrect scientific procedure,
value-laden terminology, and illogical statements.
Some agencies critical of Thunderbolt even
tried to persuade the Forest Service to undertake its "restoration"
without logging and road-building. They also offered to pay for it.
No dice. Perhaps taking charity just didn't seem right for a can-do
outfit like the Forest Service.
So, I had to
admit that this timber sale really was, well, flawed. And as the
months passed, nothing convinced me to change my
But for once I refused to focus only on
the downside. If the giant Boise Cascade Corp. saw a lot to praise,
maybe I could, too. Boise Cascade wrote the Forest Service that an
enormous challenge faced us all - the challenge to restore chinook
salmon to their rightful place as a vibrant forest creature.
"We cannot forget that the
drainage needs much more action if we are to be successful in
restoring healthy salmon runs," according to Boise Cascade. But
company officials went on to suggest that the sale should be
tractor-logged and not helicopter-logged, as flying trees out of
the forest is very costly. That would mean there would be less
money available to help fish.
drains were also identified: having to leave behind too many
"wildlife trees' and not being able to log right up to the
streambank. Boise Cascade reminded the Forest Service that "salvage
operations within riparian habitat conservation areas may well
enhance or reduce potential damage to the fish."
For its part, the Forest Service said this was
no average logging project; proceeds would be donated to restoring
chinook habitat in the sale area. For example, the roads which
logging trucks will be traveling down will get new gravel surfaces.
Just try to pay for that without doing a huge logging
Meanwhile, Idaho's Sen. Larry Craig, R,
was not silent on the opportunities Thunderbolt provided or the
trouble caused by its unaccountable delays. "If the Environmental
Protection Agency had not opposed this sale, the watershed work to
help Idaho's salmon would probably already be done," he told the
Finally, after almost a year,
a resolution. Last November, the carping critics lost and Boise
National Forest Supervisor David Rittenhouse sold Thunderbolt for
approximately one-half its advertised value. (Nobody would buy it
the first time around.) But Rittenhouse was happy: "We can move
forward with projects that benefit salmon."
That did it; I've stopped sounding like such a nay-sayer, and now
I'm happy, too. Chinook salmon are crying out for our help, but for
some reason it seems the only people who can hear them are a few
determined Forest Service officials and Boise Cascade. Logging is
good for salmon. Why can't more people understand
Take my advice: If you want to help
chinook salmon, go out right now and buy as much lumber as you can
afford, and be quick about it. You say you care about fish? Then
get off your butt and build something. Salmon are in trouble, and
there are trees to be lopped.
Activist and freelance writer Erik Ryberg lives
in Fruitvale, Idaho, where he tries to make sense of
Boise Cascade has begun logging the
Thunderbolt sale. Environmentalists are in court trying to stop it.
For more information, call the Idaho Conservation League,