Trees refuse to croak

  When Forest Service officials approved logging on 10,000 acres of Idaho's Payette National Forest under the salvage logging rider in 1995, they said the trees had been killed by a 1994 wildfire or bark beetles. Now, they admit "dead" was an overstatement.

"People may see what appear to be green, healthy trees removed from the forest," the agency had explained in a July, 1996 news release. "These trees are actually dead."

Truth be told, some of those trees were just "imminently dead," according to Forest Service entomologist Julie Weatherby. When Weatherby returned to the logged area last summer, she discovered two-thirds of the trees left standing in test plots were still alive.

"Currently, our biggest errors are associated with trees living which have been expected to die," wrote Weatherby in a September 1996 memo. "Hopefully, some of these green grand firs and Douglas firs ... will die over time."

But a second visit to the area this August revealed that only 12 to 47 percent of the "imminently dead" trees had died.

For Ron Mitchell, executive director of the Boise-based Idaho Sporting Congress, the undead trees are proof that the Forest Service cannot be trusted with salvage logging operations. "They obviously knew the trees were not dead," he says. "They were just lying to get the cut out." His group acquired Weatherby's memo through the Freedom of Information Act this summer.

"Like a lot of things, 20-20 hindsight is really quite good," Ron Hamilton, resource and ecology branch chief for the Payette, told Scott Sonner of the Associated Press. "We had to make the calls on our salvage sale based on our best information at the time."

*Greg Hanscom