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Industrial Forestry Threatens to Blitz the Lolo

Clearcuts in Montana. Photo: George Wuerthner.

The Forest Service is once again demonstrating its Industrial Forestry bias with its proposal to treat 3,790 acres by Cruzane Mountain in the Lolo National Forest. An acre is approximately the size of one football field.

The District Ranger suggests that treatments will “address insect and disease impacts and improve forest health (in) nearby communities at risk of wildfire.” Everything in this statement is inaccurate.

I know the Forest Service is under the gun from the Trump presidency to increase subsidized timber harvest to provide “healthy” profits for the timber industry. Still, at some point, I would hope federal employees would find a way to speak truth to power.

The FS plans 1,411 acres of commercial harvest. This logging would include 981 acres of “regeneration harvest,” which removes most trees from an area; zones with high infection rates of root rot among Douglas fir would be clear-cut. There would also be 417 acres of thinning and 12.7 acres of improvement cut to remove certain tree species.

How is removing most trees on a site “improving” forest health? Healthy forest ecosystems depend on the biological legacies that are created by insects, fire, root rot, and other mortality factors. It is just assumed that anything that kills a tree (except chainsaws) is somehow “detrimental.”

Dead trees are not a wasted resource from a forest ecosystem perspective. Indeed, as much as 2/3 of all wildlife depend on dead trees at some point in their life history. One could argue that many species live in dread of “green forests.”

For example, a recent study by Dick Hutto of the U of Montana (an ecologist-not a forester) found that 49% of bird species (out of 68 studied) were more common in or even depended upon severely burnt forests. These are the very kinds of wildfires that the Forest Service claims are an indication of “unhealthy” forests.

Another study found more native bee species in severely burnt forests.

Snags and wood in streams are essential for the aquatic ecosystem. If you are a trout, there is no limit to the amount of woody debris that enhances your habitat.

The Forest Service proposes reconstructing 11.6 miles of roads and constructing 4 miles of new roads. Roads are a significant vector for the spread of weeds—is this a way to enhance forest health?

Logging roads are a chronic source of sedimentation into streams. Does this sound like you are enhancing “forest health”?

It’s not just birds or other wildlife that are harmed by Forest Service timber industry management. Logging removes carbon. Even burnt trees store more carbon than is emitted by logging operations.

One study looked at 1500 wildfires across the West and found that higher severity blazes occurred in “actively managed” forests. Sites in wilderness protected from the “benefits” of chainsaw medicine had fewer high severity wildfires.

The Forest Service must abandon its Industrial Forestry Paradigm and manage our public lands for healthy forest ecosystems, not just “wood products.” The birds and bees (and fish, etc.) will thank them.

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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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