Fire is as natural as rain in the mountains of Northern California. Forests have been shaped and influenced by fire for millennia. In fact, of all the acres that burn in forest fires most often less than 10% burn at high severity, meaning that 90% burns at low and moderate severity, clearing and opening the forest floor.
Forests Need Fire — Not Destructive Salvage Logging
Post-fire landscapes are alive and vibrant. They are more biologically diverse than unburned forests and provide for an array of plant and animal species. Post-fire landscapes are considered to be one of the rarest and most ecologically important forest habitats in western forests, and the stand-transforming fires that create this habitat are not damaging the forest ecosystem. Rather, they are advancing ecological restoration.
Multiple plant and animal species depend on post fire habitats. Fire maintains the quality and quantity of foraging habitat for wide-ranging species such as deer and elk. Damaged and dead trees (snags) are important structural forest components and are key habitat for numerous species. They provide forage, cavities for nesting and protection, perch sites, and den sites. Large snags are one of the most distinctive features of an old-growth forest and contribute shade, providing cool microclimates and future soil nutrients.
Fire suppression and the military style of fire fighting can be more environmentally destructive than wildfire itself. Suppression tactics often include cutting down large snags, bulldozing miles of ridge tops and lighting high severity fires to “control” fire behavior. Furthermore, it is often natural elements such as rain, topography or weather that ultimately put the flames out.
While suppression may be justified around homes and communities it can often lead to devastating negative environmental effects far from human life and property. It is well know that creating a defensible “fire-safe” area and building with fire resistant materials is the best way to prevent loss of homes and structures.
Post Fire Logging
Fire and tree mortality are essential elements in a forest ecosystem. Logging on fragile post-fire soils inhibits and damages natural growth and recovery.
Logging of large snags and trees within post fire landscapes does not contribute to recovery of forest habitat. The best available science indicates that post-fire logging may result in significant impacts to soils, wildlife, late-successional characteristics and hydrology.
Threats to Our Public Lands from Current Salvage Logging Proposals
As of January 2013, and in the wake of several large fires on public lands in the summer of 2012, there are a series of new salvage logging proposals being promoted by timber sale planners on the Mendocino and Klamath National Forests. The following is a brief description of the environmental threats of each of the new salvage logging projects.
The Mendocino National Forest is proposing to streamline more than 250 acres of post-fire logging. The 30,000 acre Mill Fire burned outside the town of Stoneyford and within the Blue Slides Late Successional Reserve (LSR). The reserves are set aside to preserve old growth forest and the species that depend on big old trees for survival.
A majority of these forest stands had a moderate severity burn with many green trees unaffected. In fact, less than 10% of the fire area burned at high severity. Much of the area is already naturally regenerating.
Mendocino National Forest planners are seeking to undermine and ignore meaningful environmental analysis, and declare an “emergency” that would allow logging to begin immediately after a decision by the Forest Supervisor despite an appeal or pending lawsuit.
North Pass Fire
UPDATE 3/7/13: Thanks to your participation, this proposal has been withdrawn.
The Mendocino National Forest is proposing two post-fire logging sales. One is the Mill Fire project detailed above and the other is the North Pass Fire “Salvage” logging timber sale.
According to the September 25, 2012 Burned Area Report for the North Pass Fire lasted for 24 days and burned 31,050 acres on the Mendocino National Forest of which 21,693 acres were low severity, 8502 acres were moderate and only 855 acres burned at high severity (<3% of the fire area). The Forest Service’s fire supression tactics created 46 miles of fireline and 79.35 miles of National Forest roads utilized during fire suppression efforts.
The proposed project would tractor and cable log within snag forest habitat on approximately 300 acres of Northern Spotted Owl Critical Habitat within Matrix and Riparian Reserve allocations and would subsequently damage natural regeneration and establish highly flammable plantations. The project is within the Wild and Scenic Middle Fork Eel River Tier 1 Key Watershed. The project proposes- to construct .5 miles of new “temporary” road, 3 miles of road maintenance and log hauling.
The Kangaroo Roadless Area outside the Red Buttes Wilderness is in danger. This backcountry forest is one of the largest intact wild lands in California. It provides critical connectivity for wildlife and is a virtual hotspot for biodiversity and endemic species. It hosts waterfalls, high mountain meadows, lush old-growth forests, endless wildflowers and amazing vistas from the Pacific Crest Trail.
This summer the 22,000 acre Goff Fire burned exquisitely with a vast majority of the flames burning low to the ground cleaning the forest floor in its path. Now that the smoke has cleared, the Klamath National Forest is considering helicopter logging the biggest old-growth snags (burned trees) in the name of “forest health”.
UPDATE: January 30, 2013
Public Input Works. By taking action late last year with EPIC to oppose salvage logging proposed after last summer’s Goff Fire in the Klamath NF near the Oregon border, you have saved wild forests from unnecessary and damaging post-fire logging. The Klamath National Forest has cancelled plans to heavily log the Kangaroo Roadless Area! The Forest Service changed course because-
1) Helicopter logging was not economically viable;
2) Klamath NF Fire staff said that post-fire logging would not improve firefighter or community safety; and
3) the Forest Service had heard from enough people that value the Kangaroo Roadless Area to realize there was nothing collaborative about a “salvage” proposal.
Now, land/ mangers will be concentrating on fuels reduction 500 feet around private properties and roadside hazard tree logging. Because a formal proposal is not yet finalized, EPIC will continue to follow the Klamath National Forest post-fire projects related to the Goff fire closely.
Unfulfilled Promises – EPIC Documents Forest Service Failures in Past Post-Fire Salvage Logging Project Implementation
When looking at proposed projects it is instructive to review recent salvage projects to compare the project proposal with the results of project implementation. EPIC monitoring of past salvage projects demonstrates a failure on the part of the United States Forest Service to fulfill their promise in project implementation to avoid environmental degradation from industrial activity. This is another argument against letting these new destructive projects proceed unchallenged, as after on-the-ground monitoring revealed multiple inconsistencies between project planning and what actually happened on the ground.
EPIC fought the Panther Fire “Salvage” Timber Sale all the way to the 9th Circuit Court of Law in Sacramento, but despite our best effort logging moved forward.
The Panther Fire started from a lightning storm in July 2008. A combination of topography and weather resulted in a run that engulfed 13,000 acres, in a single day, October 1st.
The Happy Camp District of the Klamath National Forest logged 254 acres of steep post-fire hillsides within the Elk Creek watershed. Elk Creek is listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act and is also a Key Watershed, which is critical habitat for salmon recovery. Despite the impaired nature, the creek is home to Coho and Chinook salmon, steelhead, resident trout and the Pacific lamprey. All of these species rely on the streams within Elk Creek for all life stages (migration, spawning, incubation, rearing, and holding). The Elk Creek Watershed is extremely sensitive to disturbance and has been affected by too many roads and intensive timber harvest.
Logging took place in Late Successional Reserves, areas set aside to protect and enhance old growth forest structure and species; in Riparian Reserves, waterways and unstable areas and within Recreational River boundaries.
The Panther post-fire logging project is within Critical Habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl a species listed as “Threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act. There is overwhelming scientific evidence that northern spotted owls roost and forage in post-fire habitats, and owl territories with severely burned stands in the Panther fire area may continue to be occupied by owls. Fire-killed trees provide perch sites and future nest sites. Recent scientific evidence found that survival and reproduction depended upon significant patches of high severity post-fire habitat because it is suitable for a key prey species, the Dusky-footed wood rat. This habitat is not mimicked by logging as proposed by the Panther project, which would remove snags and prevent recruitment of large downed logs.
Forest visitors regularly use the area for many reasons including the Sulphur Springs and Norcross Campgrounds and to access the Bear Lake and Bear Creek Trailheads, the Kelsey National Recreational Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, which lead to the Marble Mountain Wilderness.
Enter descriptionTiger LilySteep HillsidesLarge snags on steep slopesLooking out into the Marbled MountainsPanoramic ViewscapeWet weather logging next to Elk CreekDenuded hillsidesDenuded Riparian ReservesDedunded Riparian ReservePanoramic ViewscapeRutting and erosion
The Caribou Fire area on the Wild and Scenic South Fork Salmon River on the Klamath National Forest was logged the past few summers. EPIC was able to get some of the best snag habitat saved for wildlife. The Forest Service’s environmental analysis (EA) was replete with “Project Design Features” and “Best Management Practices” that were put in place to protect fisheries, hydrology, soils and wildlife. However, after on-the-ground monitoring we discovered multiple inconsistencies between the EA and what is actually happening on the ground.
Countless mitigations were ignored. The Forest Service severely failed to meet their promises, surveys for threatened and sensitive species were not completed, most all of the largest snags and large logs that were to remain standing or within the logged areas were removed, all of the hardwood snags were removed and sold as firewood, despite the requirement for it to remain on the landscape, riparian areas were logged and much of the work took place during rainy weather.
We were extremely disappointed to discover the broad swath of disparity separating the Caribou Project description from the reality of what actually has occurred in this Key watershed that, is critical for Salmon recovery. Further, this project cost over $1.6 million dollars to plan, the contractor paid a less than $50,000 and did not make a profit, leaving taxpayers holding the bill for the destruction of their national forest.
To add insult to injury the Klamath National Forest is not being held accountable. There is no recourse that can come to them aside from your public outcry.
Snags in Riparian Reserve.Post-fire recovery in the Caribou.Large snag marked for cut in the Caribou Salvage sale.Two large snags marked to be cut alongside a recovering creek.Native plants and insects return to burnt landscapes following fire.Native birds such as this woodpecker take advantage of the post-fire landscape.Seasonal ponds form in depressions caused by bears wallowing (rolling around) in the soil.Caribou post-fire, pre-salvage logging implementation: Unit 8 and large snagsCaribou post-fire, pre-salvage logging implementation: Unit 8 and large snagsThese four foot snags were saved by EPIC.Post Salvage Logging: the hillsides along Caribou have been ravaged.Unit 10 of the Caribou Salvage Sale. The hillside is left barren and desolate.Post-Salavage Logging of Caribou's Unit 8.Logging equipment leaking oil and fuel into the ground.The non-merchantable timber is culled, rejected, and left to waste on the log landing.Unit 10: the hillside is left barren and desolate.
EPIC is encouraging a different plan of action
We are working to incorporate the traditional ecological knowledge of the region’s Indian people with a new scientific approach to wildfire management. Prescribed burning, selective thinning and similar measures are tools that can begin changing the way state agencies think about wildfire and return our region to a natural fire cycle.
The documentary by the Klamath-Salmon Media Collaborative, Catching Fire: Prescribed Burning in Northern California tells a compelling story of how a small but committed group of local, tribal, state and federal land managers are bringing back the use of prescribed fire as a tool to protect communities and ecosystems across Northern California.
Forests Born of Fire, produced by Wild Nature Institute is another short film that demonstrates the beauty and life found where burned forests are left to wild nature.
As a society, we must understand that fire is an essential element in maintaining healthy ecosystems.
People continue to move deeper and deeper into Northern California’s forests and balancing the needs of private land owners with effective wildfire management techniques is not easy. However, working with state agencies, local fire safe councils, regional Indian tribes, and other community members, we look to form a holistic approach to wildfire management that addresses the needs of the land and the people who call it home.