Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bridger Teton Asks loggers for wishes

Bridger-Teton asks loggers for wishes
Letter links logging industry, local mills with health of national forests.

By Cory Hatch, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: February 18, 2009

Conservation groups say U.S. Forest Service officials should reconsider their attempts to attract logging interests to Bridger-Teton National Forest after three regional forest supervisors wrote a letter courting logging interests late last month.

The letter, signed by Bridger-Teton forest supervisor Kniffy Hamilton and forest supervisors for Shoshone and Caribou-Targhee national forests, is dated Jan. 28.

“In recent years, epidemic insect infestations and uncharacteristically large and intense wildfires have occurred, which threaten the health of our local forests, both private and public,” the letter says. “Budgets and environmental restraints have reduced the number of acres that have been treated, primarily on national forest system lands.”

“This has impacted the local wood products industry,” the letter says. “Several local mills have closed and the capacity to improve forest land health through treatment and utilize the wood fiber has been reduced.”

A questionnaire accompanying the letter asks loggers and wood industry officials about their current annual wood use, their potential annual wood use, the species of wood they prefer and the size of the material they prefer.

George Wuerthner, ecological projects director for the Foundation for Deep Ecology, said if the three forest supervisors really wanted to improve forest health, they would leave the forest alone.

“Basically, everything we do in forestry makes the forest more unhealthy, in my view,” he said. “It’s all designed to reduce the amount of biomass.”
Life from dead logs

Wuerthner said about two-thirds of all wildlife species depend on dead trees at some point in their life. Those species include a number of insects, cavity-nesting birds, bald eagles, pine martens, bats and salamanders.

“In Wyoming, martens are very vulnerable to cold,” he said. “It finds a pulpy, dead log to burrow into [when temperatures drop to extreme lows]. In areas where there are no dead logs, there are no martens.”

Ants that use dead and down trees not only provide an important food for animals such as grizzly bears and black bears, but also prey on insects that attack trees, Wuerthner said.

In streams and rivers, researchers have “found no upper limit” to the amount of wood that benefits life, Wuerthner said. “The more wood you have in a stream, the better it is for fish and aquatic insects,” he said.

He said there is also a misconception that beetle-killed trees contribute to more intense wildfires. While trees are slightly more flammable during the “red phase” of a beetle infestation, studies have shown that trees lose that flammability once needles drop off. A more important factor for big fires is persistent dry weather, which wipes out living trees and dead trees.

Wuerthner also said logging doesn’t work to reduce insect attacks.

“The level of thinning that you need to do requires taking between 50 and 80 percent of the trees out,” he said. “And the mortality of beetle-killed trees often doesn’t exceed 50 to 80 percent of trees.”
Exploring multiple use

Even if logging did work to promote forest health, Wuerthner said the associated impacts would likely negate any positive effects. For instance, logging roads not only contribute to soil erosion but also aid in the spread of noxious weeds.

“Typically, when you have a fire, you get an increase in sediment flow, but it rapidly goes back to the pre-fire conditions,” he said. “Roads never do heal. They are always putting sediment into streams. It breaks up the natural drainage flows.”

Jonathan Ratner, director of the Wyoming office of the Western Watersheds Project, said the Forest Service is behind when it comes to understanding the effects of logging on forest health.

“It is purely about this outdated understanding that the forests are way too dense and we need to cut, which is absolutely wrong,” he said. “What you have out there [after logging] are these vast monocultures of lodgepole, which are not only extremely flammable, but they produce almost nothing in terms of wildlife habitat.”

Ratner said some species such as Canada lynx and snowshoe hares benefit from younger monocultures of lodgepole pine.

Bridger-Teton spokeswoman Mary Cernicek said some areas on the forest have “extraordinary amounts of beetle-killed trees.”

“The Forest Service specialists acknowledge that a certain amount of dead and downed timber is needed to promote healthy life cycles and habitat for both plant and animal species,” she said. “However, if there is a way to benefit the wood products industries, keeping in balance with our multiple-use mission, the forest will explore that.”

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