The Mendocino National Forest is attempting to hide a 1,300 acre clearcut as a “restoration” project. By its logic, there is a need to cut all trees in order to plant others. The agency is arguing that it is exempt from environmental laws that require a detailed consideration of the likely environmental impacts of the project. All of this is on the heels of a massive post-fire roadside-logging project done without adequate environmental review. EPIC’s staff has rarely seen this level of disregard for science, ecology, wildlife, water quality, or public participation. We need your help to shine a spotlight on this Orwellian abuse of our laws.
The “Green Flat Restoration Project” is in response to the 2018 Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Fire Complex. To justify its proposed project, the Forest Service critically muddies the facts about the severity of burned area. By the agency’s telling, the project site is a moonscape desolate of life—with 79% of the area burned at “high-severity.” More accurately, the broader project area burned at a mixed severity—with patches of lower-severity fire (i.e. less mortality and surviving green trees capable of providing a seed source for natural reforestation) near patches of high-severity (i.e., the vast majority of trees were killed by the fire).
Here’s why this matters: by adopting an expansive definition of “high-severity” area, the Forest Service justifies the necessity of the project. It claims that because nearly the entire project falls within a “high-severity” patch, it must be replanted. And, in order to “improve the success” of replanted trees and to reduce fuels, the agency claims it needs to remove dead and live trees that were affected by the fire.
All of this is hooey because the forest stands are entirely capable of natural regeneration. Fire is nature’s phoenix. The mixed-severity of the project area ensures that there is a sufficient seed source nearby, and with resprouting hardwoods, the area will naturally reforest in time. The proposed ground based logging with heavy machinery, by contrast, will eviscerate natural recovery through the churning and disturbance of the already fragile soils. Artificial reforestation is less preferable for numerous reasons: it is more expensive, results in less biological diversity, and spreads invasive species.
Snags are an important part of a post-fire forest.
Snags left behind without logging are biological legacies that help forests recover from one stand to the next. Snag forests provide valuable charcoal and will stand and store carbon for decades. Unlogged post-fire forests provide complex forest structures and biologically vibrant habitats. Often called “nurse logs” after they fall, snags provide future soil nutrients, create cooler micro-climates by casting shade and holding moisture, provide denning, resting and hiding areas for mammals and birds, and feed the millions of micro-organisms that are the base of the food chain.
There is no sound ecological reason for industrial post-fire logging. By misleading the public about the nature and the need of the project, the Forest Service then attempts to shuttle the project through using a “categorical exclusion” from the National Environmental Policy Act’s requirements to carefully study the potential environmental impacts of a project. No consideration of impacts to wildlife. No consideration of impacts to water quality. No consideration to impacts to future fire conditions. Nothing. This fits a trend from the Mendocino National Forest to mischaracterize projects to get out the cut—and one that EPIC sued them over in 2019.
We need your help. The Mendocino National Forest hopes that no one will notice that this “restoration” project is really a timber sale in disguise. We need to flood the Forest Service with opposition to this appalling project before the comment period ends on Friday.