The more I learn about the Forest Service's approach to the aftermath of the Biscuit fire in Oregon’s Siskiyou National Forest, the greater my sense that history is about to repeat itself.
Some people might
wonder why a 55-year-old man living in a cabin surrounded by
Montana's Bitterroot National Forest would have such a keen
interest in a massive logging plan on another state’s
The answer: I lived through the
Bitterroot fires of 2000, when lightning and human-caused fires
burned over 300,000 acres, including much of the land surrounding
Even before the flames were out, and before many
people, including myself, could return home, the Forest Service and
the logging industry were fanning the public's newly learned fear
Using buzzwords such as "restoration" and "fuel
reduction," they led the public to believe that the best thing for
the Bitterroot following the big fire was an equally big salvage
When the Forest Service released its
final Bitterroot "Recovery Plan," it called for logging 181 million
board-feet of trees on 46,239 acres, with over half the logging in
unroaded wildlands or core habitat for threatened bull trout and
westslope cutthroat trout. At the time, this was one of the biggest
Forest Service logging proposals in modern history.
the Forest Service has outdone itself with its so-called Biscuit
Post-Fire Recovery Project. This logging plan in southern Oregon
would cut down enough trees from the Siskiyou National Forest to
fill 76,000 log trucks lined up for over 650 miles. It would also
log 8,173 acres of inventoried roadless wildlands and 6,756 acres
of ancient forest reserves.
While the places have
changed, much of the rhetoric about restoration, community
protection and future fire hazard remains the same on the Biscuit
project as it was in the Bitterroot. I guess the Forest Service
figures that if it can fool the public once, it can fool us again.
What can't be dismissed here on the Bitterroot is how the
Forest Service's rhetoric and promises have failed to match up with
reality on the ground. Unlike the proposed project on the Siskiyou,
we've been seeing the results of our "recovery" plan for two years.
A month before the project started, Forest Service Chief
Dale Bosworth defended his Bitterroot plan by stating, "The most
important thing to me is getting on with the restoration work.
There's lots of other work we wanted to do — roads we wanted
to obliterate, watershed work, reforestation. The idea of the whole
project was fire restoration."
Yet, two years into this
"recovery" plan, only 17 percent of the total required road and
watershed restoration work has been completed, and $16 million in
restoration funds are gone, meaning the restoration work may never
While the critical restoration work waits, the
vast majority of the logging has occurred far from the nearest
community. Meanwhile, logging companies have systematically cut
down the largest, most fire-resistant trees while leaving the less
valuable, smaller trees. Now, only the small, fire-prone trees are
left standing amidst the piles of logging slash tinder.
Instead of reducing fire risk on the Bitterroot, the Forest Service
is using taxpayer dollars to increase the fire hazard. And the
agency knows this. Obscured within volumes of project analysis is
an admission that slash from logging will "increase (the) fire
hazard for up to eight years. Under good burning conditions, fires
burning in these slash fuel types have the potential to spread
rapidly and extensively." This conclusion was never mentioned at
the numerous public meetings leading up to the timber sale.
Meanwhile, the unscientific specter of a possible future
"catastrophic reburn" was highlighted repeatedly, just as it is now
in the Siskiyous of Oregon. If the specter of a destructive
"reburn" really lives in these mountains, I wonder why Lewis and
Clark found magnificently healthy forests? These Bitterroot forests
— just like those in the Siskiyous — had burned many
times and never been salvage logged.
What we locals see
here on the Bitterroot is the Forest Service's failure to deliver
on legitimate restoration, the fire hazard increased by logging and
real-world evidence that the specter of 'reburn' is nothing but a
Real recovery, as well as public trust,
got burned on the Bitterroot by Forest Service rhetoric. I only
hope the Biscuit "recovery" isn't a rhetorical reburn as well.