Westside Fire Recovery Project a Hot Mess

By
Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

Whites_RussiansWith over 30,000 acres of Klamath National Forest proposed to be harvested and sold, the Westside Fire Recovery Project is poised to be one of the largest ever post-fire timber harvests on a National Forest. This so-called “recovery” project places timber company profits over community safety and wildlife by clearcutting complex, habitat-rich forests and replacing them with fire-prone plantations.

The Klamath National Forest is special to a lot of people in this region, and for good reason. Its wild canyons and old, expansive forests support a wide variety of unique animals and plants including the endangered northern spotted owl, Pacific fisher, California wolverine, and Siskiyou Mountains salamander. It also hosts the most productive wild salmon and steelhead fisheries outside of Alaska. Because of its biological diversity and unique evolutionary history, the World Wildlife Fund refers to the Klamath-Siskiyou region as the “Galapagos of North America.” The rugged beauty and ecological importance of the area is recognized through the nation’s highest concentration of designated Wild and Scenic Rivers. Preserving intact forests in this region is also a local solution to climate change; the Klamath contains some of the most biomass-dense forests in North America, which sequester and store carbon long after a fire.

Fires produce some counter-intuitive results in forests. Post-fire areas are biological hotspots, having greater biodiversity than unburned forests, and critters like the infamous northern spotted owl appear to actively prefer burned forests for foraging. Fires also help forests develop old-growth characteristics faster, increasing the complexity and fecundity of the landscape. Despite this, many forest managers continue to operate under outdated and disproven ideas for how to help a forest recover after fire, as exemplified by this project.

While the fires were still smoldering last summer, the Forest Service hatched a plan to capitalize on them. By declaring the area an “emergency,” the Klamath National Forest could fast-track a massive timber sale, bypassing opportunities for public comment or participation. It is clear why the Forest Service wants to limit public scrutiny: the Westside Project is an ecological disaster. Miles of new roads would increase sediment in Coho bearing streams and the Wild & Scenic Scott, Salmon and Klamath Rivers. Logging would impact — by the Service’s own admission—over 90 spotted owl activity centers and remove thousands of acres of habitat.

The Westside Project also increases risky fire behavior. Helicopter logging will leave “jackpots” of fuel, ready to catch and burn in the dry summer months. Replanting will create dense, even-aged plantations prone to being ripped through by high-severity fires. Unmaintained fire suppression lines and fuel breaks will accumulated dense, thick fuels, and act as a vector for future fires.

EPIC and others are open to working collaboratively to draft a project that protects people and biodiversity. We have done so in the past, for example in drafting the post-fire response to the Little Deer salvage timber sale on the Goosenest Ranger District. And it is not too late. Forest Supervisor Grantham has broad power to shape the project to protect rural communities and the environment. She has heard from EPIC and other environmental groups. Now she needs to hear from you. Public comments close on the draft environmental impact statement on April 27. Let Supervisor Grantham that you support light-touch treatments, not clearcuts.

Published 4/7/15 in the Eureka Times-Standard