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for people who care about the West

No rush to log

  Dear HCN:

Your coverage of the push for salvage logging in the wake of an intense fire season was both timely and insightful (HCN, 9/19/94). Kathie Durbin's interview with Tom Graham, a rehabilitation worker on the Tyee Creek Fire, exposed one of the central fallacies of public forestry. Mr. Graham suggested that the fire had burned both "managed" and "untouched" watersheds alike.

There are no "pristine" or "untouched" areas left in the West. The no-holds-barred war on wildfire that has taken place since the turn of the century has profoundly influenced forest and range ecology in virtually every location, no matter how remote. Fire suppression is as damaging to forest structure and biological diversity as over-zealous logging or overgrazing.

The challenge for activists and managers alike now is to find a point of reference for defining forest health in the quest for ecosystem management. Forest management in the Intermountain West has become a closed vicious circle. The more we manage with a singular view toward protecting and cutting timber, the more endangered that timber and its associated ecosystems have become.

Industry beckons us on another mad rush around the circle with its call for large, unstudied salvage logging operations. I suggest we stop to catch our breath and focus on forest history and forest ecosystems in an honest way if we want to leave any forests at all for the next generation of Westerners.

Tom Ribe

Los Alamos, New Mexico

The writer is a staff ecologist with the Public Forestry Foundation in Eugene, Oregon.