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Logging Greater Yellowstone: New Threat to Chief Joseph Highway

The Chief Joseph Highway that leads from Cody to the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park is one of the most scenic drives in the West.  I have camped, hiked, and skied the public lands along this ribbon of blacktop many times over the decades, including as recently as this past summer.

Yet the Shoshone National Forest, based on dubious assumptions about wildfire and forest health. The FS plans what it euphuistically calls “vegetative improvements” or what is better known as clearcut logging that will desecrate this scenic by-way.

Their proposal calls for logging 2000 acres along nine miles of the corridor, including logging in a roadless area. To put this into perspective, this scheme calls for logging an area equal to 1520 football fields. Imagine 1520 football fields denuded of its forests!

The proposal also calls for building or reconditioning 25 miles of logging roads.

The worse part of this proposal is that the main justifications for logging are scientifically questionable, while the ecological impacts are certain. There are numerous studies that conclude you cannot halt or slow a beetle outbreak by logging, nor can logged areas stop fires burning under severe weather conditions because embers are blown miles ahead of any fire front.

Furthermore, many recent studies (which the FS appears to ignore) conclude that dead trees typically reduces the prevalence of wildfire, and at the least, does not increase the risk.

Climate/weather, not fuels, drives large fires.  Thus, logging does not and cannot preclude large blazes.

Plus, under extreme fire weather, which are the only conditions when you get large uncontrollable blazes, green trees burn more readily than dead trees due to the abundance of resin-filled fine fuels like needles, small branches, and so forth.

In addition, even if removal of dead trees did temporarily reduce the risk of large fires (a questionable assumption), such a reduction is effective for a very short time since trees quickly grow back creating fuel for fires.

Thus, the probability of a major wildfire during the time when fuels are reduced is extremely small.  That means this logging likely will not provide any “benefits” (questionable as they are), while almost certainly causing ecological harm and costing taxpayers money.

Removal of dead trees impoverishes the forest ecosystem, so in effect, the Forest Service is helping to destroy our forests.

Dead trees, whether killed by beetles or wildfire, are vital to forest health. Many, many species of wildlife, and many plants are dependent on dead trees for home, food, and shelter.

Even streams depend on dead trees—fallen logs create critical habitat for aquatic ecosystems and are important for hydrological integrity.

Dead trees are also important for storage of carbon and nutrients.

Therefore, any large-scale removal of dead and dying trees bankrupts forest ecosystems.

Logging and roads also problematic. The disturbance created by logging activates including roads enhances the spread of weeds and compact soils.

Logging roads, even temporary logging roads, are a major source of chronic sedimentation in streams which destroy fish habitat.

In addition, there are studies that show many human-caused wildfire occur along roads. So, the construction of new logging roads increases the probably of wildfire starts.

Poaching is also enhanced by the easy access provided by roads and sensitive wildlife avoid roads, thus reducing their useable habitat.

If the goal is to protect the scattered homes and ranchers along the corridor, many studies have found that reducing the flammability of homes is far more effective and less costly than any fuel treatments. Installation of a non-flammable roof and eliminating burnable materials 100-200 feet from a home is sufficient to safeguard homes.

The Shoshone NF is accepting comments on its Budworm Response until December 8th at comments-rocky-mountain-shoshone@fs.fed.us

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George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. He serves on the board of the Western Watersheds Project.

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