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Forest Service Losing Money on Biscuit Post-fire Logging

Medford -- A new report released today by scientists, former Forest Service employees, and conservation groups indicates that logging within the Biscuit fire area of southwest Oregon is costing the public both ecologically and economically. According to the report, the Forest Service has lost approximately $14 million in sale preparation and administration costs on the Biscuit fire area. Biscuit timber sold for about 70 percent less than the agency projected in its planning documents due primarily to low bid values received and driven by expensive helicopter logging operations.

The study team found extensive damage to the area's regenerating forest, especially in the Fiddler Late-Successional Reserve (previously set aside for old-growth values), due to excessive logging. Of special concern was the loss of larger trees in logged stands, as these trees are the building blocks for future forests and are critical to fish and wildlife species. The cumulative effects of yarding, hauling, and fuels treatment on wildlife habitat, soils, and water quality will likely persist for decades.

According to one of the report's authors, Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala, a forest ecologist with the World Wildlife Fund, "this report demonstrates that the ecological and economic science behind post-fire logging is shaky at best."

"The public needs to know that post-fire logging is a lose-lose proposition; the taxpayer loses by footing the bill and the environment loses by damaged soils and degraded fish and wildlife habitat," said DellaSala. The report demonstrates that at least for the Biscuit logging project, expediting logging would not have made a difference in dollars and cents because the Forest Service was limited by expensive helicopter logging operations conducted in steep terrain with difficult access."

University of Washington Professor Dr. James R. Karr noted "it's unfortunate but true that logging cast as "restoration" is one of the most damaging management activities humans can initiate after a fire. No amount of tree planting can make up for the damages caused by logging after large wild fires."

The report warns that damages from post-fire logging operations could become widespread if the House and Senate adopts expedited post-fire logging legislation introduced by Congressman Greg Walden (R) and Brian Baird (D) and Senator Gordon Smith (R). "From Yellowstone to Mount St. Helens to the Biscuit fire area, nature has repeatedly demonstrated remarkable resilience after fires. These areas are not "catastrophes" as suggested in post-fire logging legislation. Rather they are unique biological communities at their most vulnerable stage. Nature designed them to regenerate after fire, logging inhibits these processes," said Karr.

The report is the product of a three-day workshop hosted by the World Wildlife Fund in Ashland, Oregon last October that included more than a dozen scientists with expertise in fire science and forest and stream ecology. The team combined information from the scientific literature with ongoing fieldwork and extensive photo documentation of logging units (90 of 220 units were examined) within the Biscuit fire area to produce seven key findings:

 

  • Post-fire logging on steep and inaccessible areas like the Biscuit is a costly activity; estimated costs exceeded revenues by $14 million for approximately 53.5 million board feet of timber logged.
  • Post-fire logging was not a restorative action in the Biscuit area. Rather it damaged regenerative processes by degrading soils, triggering erosion on erosion-prone sites, increasing delivery of sediment to streams already stressed after wildfire, delaying natural plant and wildlife successional processes, and introducing or spreading invasive species. Although degradation was more severe in cable-logged areas, even helicopter logged areas were impacted.
  • Post-fire logging inhibits the return of old-growth forest conditions by removing the large dead and downed trees crucial in their development.
  • Post-fire logging increases fuels by removing the least flammable portion of trees (trunks) and leaving flammable logging slash on the ground to act as kindling for future fires. Burning of those slash piles damages underlying soils because of the high temperatures within those fires.
  • The volume of timber available for harvest was seriously overstated by a flawed agency plan that proposed logging at levels (518 million board feet) far above timber volumes economically accessible under any scenario.
  • Agency planning delays, not environmental appeals, resulted in a missed logging season as the Forest Service inserted two high-volume logging alternatives proposed by foresters from Oregon State University.
  • Public participation in forest planning is crucial to restore public trust in the agencies responsible for post-fire management. The problem is made worse by legislative pressure to increase logging when those very agencies are less able to conduct rigorous evaluations and monitor to prevent unwise and even illegal practices due to reduced budgets and declining staff.

    The Biscuit fire area is a recognized global "hot spot" of plant diversity and endemism (species found only in this region) with much of this richness the result of patchy and re-occurring wild fires.