Scientists caution against too much post-fire logging

Burned areas a critical piece of overall forest health

Post-fire landscapes are important in the big picture of long-term forest health. bberwyn photo.

Post-fire landscapes are important in the big picture of forest health. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — With political momentum growing in support of more logging, a group of leading scientists is trying to counterbalance the forest crisis mythology that has developed in the past few years. That mythology has no basis in science and is promulgated to support a political agenda.

In an open letter to the U.S. Congress, the scientists asked Congress show restraint in speeding up logging in the wake of this year’s wildfires, most notably the Rim fire in the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park.

It’s important to recognize that the scientists are not saying that there should neve be any logging, anywhere. Rather, the decisions need to be made in a measured way, considering all the environmental implications and the role that burned areas have in the bigger picture of long-term forest health.

Specifically, the letter raised concerns about two bills, (HR 1526, which passed in the House in September, and HR3188, now before the House) because the new laws would seriously undermine the ecological integrity of forest ecosystems, setting back their ability to regenerate after wildfires.

The letter also pointed to the numerous ecosystem benefits from wildfires and how post-fire landscapes are as rich in plants and wildlife as old-growth ecosystems.

The two measures are gaining traction because some politicians — who are being willfully misleading or simply ignorant — continue to beat the forest health crisis drum, never acknowledging that wildfires are integral to most western forest ecosystems.

HR 1526 would suspend federal environmental protections to expedite and increase logging of post-fire habitat and mandate increased commercial logging of unburned forests on national forests.

HR 3188, as currently proposed in the House, would override federal environmental laws to mandate post-fire clearcutting operations in national forests, Yosemite National Park, and designated Wilderness areas within the 257,000- acre Rim fire on the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park.

According to the scientists, both bills ignore the current state of scientific knowledge, which indicates that such activity would seriously undermine the ecological integrity of forest ecosystems on federal lands.

The scientists pointed that post-fire communities are among the most ecologically important and biodiverse habitat types in western conifer forests.

“Post-fire conditions serve as a refuge for rare and imperiled wildlife that depend upon the unique habitat features created by intense fire. These include an abundance of standing dead trees or “snags” that provide nesting and foraging habitat for woodpeckers and many other wildlife species, as well as patches of native flowering shrubs that replenish soil nitrogen and attract a diverse bounty of beneficial insects that aid in pollination after fire,” they wrote.

Post-fire logging impacts include compacted soils, elimination of certain bird species the introduction of invasive species and increased chronic sedimentation in streams due to the extensive road network and runoff from logging operations.

Post-fire habitats should, at least in some cases, be seen as  “ecological treasures rather than ecological catastrophes, and that post-fire logging does far more harm than good to the nation’s public lands,” they concluded.

Click here to see the full text of the scientists’ letter to Congress.

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  1. […] Scientists caution against too much post-fire logging ( […]

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